DUNEDIN, Florida - This much we know: Sergio Santos, Casey Janssen, Darren Oliver and Esmil Rogers have jobs in the Blue Jays' bullpen. It is reasonable, at this point, to assume Steve Delabar will be a member of the relief corps, too.
In an era when teams typically carry 12 pitchers (five starters, seven relievers) the math is simple. There are five guys, seven if you wish to be generous, battling for the two available bullpen spots. In no particular order they are: Brett Cecil, J.A. Happ, Jeremy Jeffress, Brad Lincoln and Aaron Loup. Owing to your charitable nature, throw in long shots Chad Jenkins and David Bush to further liven the conversation.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos' off-season overhaul of the starting rotation, his acquisitions of Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle in a deal with the Marlins and R.A. Dickey in a trade with the Mets, has the greatest effect on Happ. The 30-year-old went from being a lock for the Blue Jays' starting five to an extra starter/long relief hybrid potentially headed for Triple-A Buffalo.
"In my view I'm a major league starting pitcher so I'm just trying to go about that, build myself up and execute on the mound," said Happ, acquired from Houston last July. "As far as this rotation is concerned, we'll just have to see what happens. I'm trying to keep a positive attitude right now. If we get deeper in to camp here and something changes we'll have to have a conversation then."
Happ and Cecil are vying to be the left-handed long man. Cecil is out of options, meaning he must clear waivers to be sent to the minors. Happ, who re-upped for 2013 at $3.7-million, is controllable - as Anthopoulos likes to say - and will make his salary regardless of where he pitches. Happ could go to Buffalo, start, and remain stretched out for the likelihood of an injury in the rotation. On the surface, it's advantage Cecil to break camp with the Blue Jays.
"I don't take it for granted that I don't have any options left," said Cecil. "There are guys out here who can pitch really well and with this team, they're going to take the best team north and as well they should. They're trying to win a World Series this year."
"The main reason most of us play this game is to compete at the highest level," said Happ of the possibility of starting the season at Triple-A. "If anybody asks me what my favourite thing about playing baseball is the last five years I would say playing against the best competition in the world. That's kind of what makes this thing so fun. That's where I want to be, where I feel like I deserve to be."
Jeremy Jeffress, like Cecil, is out of options. The right-hander was taken by Milwaukee in the first round of the 2006 draft and during his time in the Brewers' organization was twice suspended for marijuana use. Jeffress moved on to the Royals, was designated for assignment in November and acquired by the Blue Jays six days later. What attracts is his arm; Jeffress' fastball routinely hits 96 mph and in 151 career minor league appearances he's averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings.
"How I play, it's all on me," said Jeffress. "All I can do is just go out there and perform to the best of my ability. I know I've got the stuff to compete and to be a major league player but it's just all putting it together."
Jeffress, 25, believes he's a better pitcher and person for the obstacles - many of his own creation - he's overcome. An excitable personality, similar to the one possessed by Brett Lawrie, Jeffress has promised himself he won't fret over his Blue Jays fate.
"I don't think of that too much because if I do try to think of that too much it'll get me nervous and kind of scared, stuff getting in my head," said Jeffress. "That's not a good thing for me, I need to just focus on one thing and just go after that."
Sergio Santos looked sharp in his first spring appearance, a shutout inning on Sunday against Baltimore. It was Santos' first game action since he shut it down in April, eventually having shoulder surgery in the summer. Pencil him in, careful not to use a pen, to the closer's role for opening day.
Casey Janssen, who converted 22 of 25 save opportunities last season in Santos' absence, is easing his way back from off-season shoulder surgery and hasn't begun to throw off a mound. Mid-March seems the best case scenario for Janssen to appear in a Grapefruit League game.
Lincoln, Jenkins and Loup have options remaining while Bush is a 33-year-old non-roster invitee who played for Gibbons in Toronto in 2005-2006. Back in North America after a season in Korea, Bush could be a valuable depth pitcher for the Blue Jays should he accept a role in the minors to start the season.
- The Twins are sending 13 players to the World Baseball Classic. Along with 1B/DH Justin Morneau, minor league left-hander Andrew Albers (North Battleford, SK) is on Canada's roster.
- The Blue Jays host the Houston Astros, Wednesday, 1:05 ET at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
Here's how the pitching will line up:
Brad Lincoln (starting - 2 innings)
Justin Germano (1 inning)
Jeremy Jeffress (1)
Alex Hinshaw (1)
Tommy Hottovy (1)
Claudio Vargas (1)
Tyson Brummett (1)
Mickey Storey (1)
The Astros are the newest members of the American League to compete in the AL West. The franchise spent the first 51 years of its existence in the National League, starting as the Colt .45's (1962-64.)