Blue Jays create depth and add needed heat to ‘pen with Jordan Hicks
Another ninth-inning inning option with Jordan Romano on IL
Even before the nagging and recurring lower back injury suffered by closer Jordan Romano that ended with the Markham (ON) native on the IL, the Blue Jays had been searching for back-of-the-bullpen help prior to the trade deadline. The need was legitimate for another strong-armed veteran to add to a Jays ‘pen that was good, but had proven, on the west coast trip, to be one reliable arm short of what was needed. Lack of relief depth has been an Achilles Heel for teams that wanted to play deep into October. Enter Jordan Hicks, obtained Sunday afternoon from the Cardinals.
Given the introduction by manager John Schneider of the revamped six-man rotation, to be unveiled on Tuesday with Hyun Jin Ryu, there became an even greater need for bullpen depth, with the necessary reduction to a seven-man relief corps.
Less than an hour after they lost 3-2 to the Angels at Rogers Centre in extra-innings on a two-run homer vs. Yimi Garcia on Sunday, the Jays ended their search for that big-armed bullpen help, obtaining the 26-year-old, five-year MLB veteran righthander Hicks in exchange for a pair of promising minor-league righthanders Adam Kloffenstein and Sem Robberse, both men currently starting at Double-A.
Hicks in 40 relief appearances with the Cards, this year, was 1-6, with a 3.67 ERA, allowing 24 walks with 59 strikeouts in 41.2 innings. He rejoins former teammate, Genesis Cabrera, who has proven his worth in a week with the Jays, as a second lefty option to Tim Mayza. Hicks pitched twice vs. the Jays in the season-opening series at Busch Stadium and was not good, allowing three runs in 1.1 innings.
To make room on the roster, the Jays designated-for-assignment, righthander Mitch White. They will now have to clear another 26 and 40-man spot when Ryu toes the rubber on Tuesday. That will likely result in optioning righthander Nate Pearson once again, but they will also need to open a spot on the 40-man roster, since Ryu has been rehabbing while on the 60-day IL coming off Tommy John surgery last summer. That announcement only comes Tuesday afternoon.
Hicks is a $622,000 (U.S.) rental for the final 56 games, eligible for free agency at the end of the current season. The Houston (TX) native, signed out of high school, averages 100.2 miles-per-hour on a sinker he throws more than half the time. He also has a four-seamer at 101 mph, a sweeper, a slider and a change. Hicks has recorded more pitches at 100+ mph this year than any pitcher in baseball. He is affordable by the Jays as a member of the bullpen moving forward and is a client of the same agency as Alek Manoah and Tim Mayza. That tidbit is important for no other reason than familiarity.
In the moment, he is another ninth-inning option, to replace the 89 career saves by Romano, Hicks has totalled 28 saves in his five-plus years. That number is ahead of the career totals of Garcia with 21 and Erik Swanson with eight.
The Jays, in the two days leading up to the MLB Trade deadline at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 1, will likely move ahead looking for a righthanded platoon bat, preferably in the outfield, plus any other asset that could upgrade major-league depth without giving up the farm.
What the Jays gave up in the Hicks trade
Kloffenstein, 22, was a third-round pick by the Jays in 2018, from a high school in Texas. The 6-5, 243 lb. righthander struggled in his first five pro seasons, but had stepped up at Double-A New Hampshire this year, going 5-5, 3.24 ERA in 17 starts. Kloffenstein immediately was installed as the 23rd best prospect with the Cardinals.
Robberse, 21, was an interesting international free-agent signing in 2019, from Zeist, Netherlands. The 6-1, 185 lb. righthander, a member of the Netherlands national team, was a quick learner since his signing and had advanced to AA-New Hampshire as Kloffenstein’s rotation mate, posting a ’23 record of 3-5, 4.06 ERA in 18 starts. Robberse had been last listed as the Jays’ 7th best prospect and now joins the Cardinals Triple-A team at Memphis ranked No. 6 in the system.