Oliver acquisition beefs up Blue Jays' bullpen
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com | 01/09/12 12:03 PM EST
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays put the finishing touches on their bullpen Monday morning by officially signing left-hander Darren Oliver to a one-year contract.
Oliver will earn $4 million in 2012, with a club option valued at $3 million for the following season. To make room on the 40-man roster, utility man Mark Teahen was designated for assignment.
Toronto will add Oliver to its mix at the back end of a revamped bullpen that appears to be complete following the offseason additions of Jason Frasor and Sergio Santos.
The bullpen was arguably the Blue Jays' most glaring weakness in 2011. The club finished tied for the American League lead in blown saves with 25 and ranked 21st overall in the Majors with a 3.88 ERA in 494 innings.
Those subpar results are expected to change following a drastic overhaul during the offseason. Gone are right-handers Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, with Shawn Camp likely following suit in the coming weeks leading up to Spring Training.
The trio has been replaced by closer Santos, who was acquired in a trade for prospect Nestor Molina during the Winter Meetings in December. Santos will be joined at the back end of the bullpen by setup men Oliver, Casey Janssen and Frasor.
Rounding out the bullpen is expected to be right-handers Carlos Villanueva and Jesse Litsch. The final spot likely won't be decided until the spring, but the early favorite is Luis Perez, who is out of options and would provide manager John Farrell with a second left-handed reliever.
The relief corps appears to have clearly defined roles, which is a stark contrast from 2011, when Octavio Dotel, Rauch and Francisco competed for the closer's job and the setup roles were relatively murky. The relievers this year should know exactly when they'll be used, and that's something that could play in the club's favor.
The $4 million guaranteed to Oliver in 2012 makes him the most lucrative free-agent signing during general manager Alex Anthopoulos' three-year tenure in Toronto. It surpasses the $3.75 million handed out to Rauch last offseason and is the most money Toronto has spent on a free agent since shortstop David Eckstein received $4.75 million in '08.
Oliver was arguably the most reliable left-handed specialist available on the open market. The veteran is 41, but he has posted the best ERAs of his 18-year career during the past four seasons.
The Kansas City native has posted ERAs in descending order of 2.88, 2.71, 2.48 and 2.29 during that span. Last year, he struck out 44 and walked just 11 in 51 innings for the AL champion Rangers. He also has been in the playoffs six consecutive seasons with the Mets, Angels and Rangers.
Teahen, who is still owed $5.5 million, came over to the Blue Jays in late July as part of a multiplayer deal. He managed to hit just .200 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in 78 games.
The writing appeared to be on the wall for Teahen when the Blue Jays acquired veteran reserve outfielder Ben Francisco. At the time, Anthopoulos indicated his club planned to carry five outfielders on its roster, which didn't leave any room for Teahen at the big league level.
Teahen is a career .264 hitter with 67 home runs and 332 RBIs. He has played for Kansas City, Chicago and Toronto during his seven-year career.