By Bob Elliott
SAN DIEGO _ The Kansas City Royals came within 90 feet of forcing extras in Game 7 of the World Series this fall.
The New York Yankees signed free-agent Andrew Miller, who the Blue Jays had shown early interest in, giving him a four-year $36 million US deal.
Games will be getting shorter at the big ball park in the Bronx … five or six chances to score maybe?
And to quote Fergie Oliver “how ‘bout them Blue Jays?”
General manager Alex Anthopoulos has upgraded behind the plate (with free agent Russell Martin replacing Dioner Navarro) and at third base (trading for Josh Donaldson to take over for Brett Lawrie) plus he filled a hole in left (Michael Saunders acquired from the Seattle Mariners).
But that bullpen?
Or rather should the question be what bullpen?
And … who else?
And this is a bullpen that had the 12th best ERA in 2014.
Anthopoulos heads to the winter meetings looking for “two, maybe three” bullpen arms.”
The only closers still on the market are San Francisco Giants trickster Sergio Romo and Robertson (if Miller was outside the Jays pay grid, Robertson is in the next time zone).
“Ideally you’d like to have someone named for the closer’s job,” Anthopoulos said this week.
Now some will say relievers are made. Not acquired.
But try winning without a closer.
“He make all the difference in the world,” we remember third baseman Rance Mulliniks telling us in 1985 after Tom Henke arrived. “Unless a team has confidence in it’s closer the No. 8 hitter can bloop one in or someone can make an error and the whole team thinks ‘on no, here we go again.’”
Mulliniks lived through the Jays bullpen struggles:
Joey McLaughlin converted 31 of 53 save chances (58%) from 1980-83.
Roy Lee Jackson went 23-for-41 (56%) saving games from 1982-84.
And Bill Caudill, acquired in a 1984 deal from the Oakland A’s saved 50 of 63 (79%) in 1984-85 before the Jays turned to Henke.
This year the Jays enter with a different bullpen than in September when Casey Janssen (free agent) closed and Aaron Sanchez worked the seventh and eighth (promoted to the rotation with J.A. Happ dealt for Saunders). Dustin McGowan is a free agent as well.
“If we can add two relievers, that would be great,” Anthopoulos said. “If it ends up being one … so be it. If it ends up being three, that’s fine as well. Ideally we’d like to add more than one.”
With such a successful start to the off-season upgrades, Anthopoulos is targeting one main area, while looking for help at second base.
“Now we can focus our attention to the bullpen, it’s probably a little easier to operate that way,” he said.
Right now the Jays have remodelled the kitchen (the cabinets look oh so nice), the living roof (with drapes so lovely Eddie Haskell would compliment Mrs. Cleaver) and the drive has been paved (and on time).
Ah, but about that leaky roof?
When will help arrive?
Finishing off Happ: The Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners completed a 1-for-1 deal this week.
Yet, there was more to the trade that sent lefty J.A. Happ to Seattle for left fielder Michael Saunders.
The Jays will pay the difference between what Happ earns and what Saunders will make in 2014, according to those familiar with the contract talks.
Happ has a $6.7 million US option for next season, while after earning $2.3 million in 2013 Saunders is eligible for salary arbitration. He could earn in the $3 million range.
That could make the difference $3.7 million range which the Jays will pay Seattle.
Both clubs refused to confirm that the Jays would be paying the difference in salaries.