Bullpen among areas of need for Blue Jays

With departure of Cecil, acquiring left-handed reliever becomes important

Bullpen among areas of need for Blue Jays

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have a lot of work to do this offseason, and they can add another item to their to-do list after left-hander Brett Cecil agreed to a four-year deal with the Cardinals over the weekend.

Cecil's departure creates another void in a bullpen that faces plenty of uncertainty this offseason. Closer Roberto Osuna and veteran right-hander Jason Grilli are the only two relievers with guaranteed jobs, and the lack of viable internal candidates should be cause for concern.

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The good news is that Toronto had enough resources to recently make a three-year offer to Cecil. That money can be allocated to finding another reliever to take his place, and there are several alternatives on the free-agent market who are worth considering.

Cecil often was underappreciated during his time in Toronto. He seemed to go through an extended period of command issues every year, yet when it was all said and done, his numbers consistently ranked among the best in the game. He struck out at least 10 batters per nine innings in each of the last four seasons and had a sub-3.00 ERA in all but one of those years.

The 30-year-old had been with the organization since 2007. He won't be easy to replace, but here's a closer look at some of the candidates who could potentially fill the void:

Jerry Blevins: Blevins missed almost all of 2015 after he fractured his left elbow twice during the same season. He bounced back this year and posted a very respectable 2.79 ERA over 42 innings for the Mets. Cecil's biggest asset out of the bullpen was his ability to miss a lot of bats by utilizing a very effective curveball. Blevins is similar in that regard after he ranked fourth among lefty relievers with 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings this past season. He made $4 million in 2016 but should be getting a substantial raise this winter.

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Marc Rzepczynski: Rzepczynski is a gamble because his career has been a bit of a rollercoaster from one year to the next, but there's no denying the talent is there. In 2016, Rzepczynski posted a 2.64 ERA in 70 games for the A's and Nationals, but the year before that his ERA was well north of 5.00. Rzepczynski has averaged more than a strikeout per inning just once in his career and walks have been an issue, but a career .589 opponents' OPS by left-handed hitters is appealing. Rzepczynski made $2.95 million in '16 and should also be in line for a substantial raise.

Boone Logan: Logan's name was frequently mentioned as one of Toronto's targets prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline, but a deal with the Rockies never came to fruition. Logan is the perfect definition of a lefty specialist, as evidenced by left-handed-hitters' .477 OPS against him, vs. a .759 mark for righties. There's also some risk here as well after Logan posted a 6.84 ERA and 4.33 ERA with the Rockies from 2014-15. Conversely, a positive is that he has struck out at least 11 batters per nine innings every year since 2012. Boone made $6.25 million in Colorado this season and is looking for a multiyear deal through free agency.

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J.P. Howell: It seems like Howell has been around forever, but he's still just 33. He's familiar to Blue Jays fans after spending six years with Tampa Bay from 2006-12, but he's not exactly hitting the market at the right time. From 2012-15, Howell logged at least 44 innings and posted a combined 2.24 ERA, but in 2016 he went 1-1 with a 4.09 ERA over 50 2/3 innings. He hasn't averaged double digits in strikeouts per nine innings since '09 and lost his prominent role in middle relief for the Dodgers. A lot of that can be contributed to a slow start (over his final 33 games of the season, Howell returned to form with a 3.21 ERA). Howell's FIP also remained similar last year, and he's a bounce-back candidate for '17.

The internal candidates: Toronto really has no choice but to add one left-hander to the bullpen because the internal options don't offer much certainty. There's some promise in Matt Dermody, who cracked the roster as a September callup, but he has made just 20 career appearances above Double-A. Aaron Loup hasn't really been the same since the first half of 2015 and Chad Girodo struggled during his brief stint with the team in '16. These three candidates are decent options to compete for the second lefty job out of the bullpen, but the Blue Jays really need to find a high-leverage arm to replace Cecil.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.