TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have signed right-handed reliever David Phelps to a one-year, $1.75 million deal, the club announced Thursday, adding another veteran arm to their retooled, hard-throwing bullpen.
Phelps can earn up to $750,000 more in performance bonuses, a source told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand. In a corresponding move, the Blue Jays designated outfielder Derek Fisher for assignment.
This will mark Phelps' second stint with the Blue Jays after he spent time with the club in 2019, when he finished off the latter stages of his recovery from Tommy John surgery and made a successful return to the mound.
Phelps posted a 3.63 ERA over 17 appearances with the Blue Jays in 2019 and was dealt to the Cubs for right-hander Thomas Hatch at the Trade Deadline in a deal that already looks great for Toronto after Hatch’s impressive debut in 2020.
Phelps carried his momentum from 2019 right into '20, which he opened with a 2.77 ERA over 12 outings for the Brewers before once again being dealt at the Deadline, this time to the Phillies. Phelps struggled with Philadelphia, allowing 11 earned runs over just 7 2/3 innings (12.91 ERA) to finish his season with a cumulative 6.53 ERA. Some of his peripheral numbers were far more encouraging, though, with 31 strikeouts and just five walks over 20 2/3 innings.
Now 34, Phelps boasts a fastball that still averaged 94.2 mph last season, according to Statcast -- a number that falls in line with his recent career averages prior to and following his surgery, so there’s little concern there. If the Blue Jays get the version of Phelps that the league saw in 2017 and '19, when he pitched to a 3.40 ERA after fully transitioning away from starting, then that adds another valuable piece to a bullpen that already looks much different than the one Phelps joined two years ago.
The Blue Jays’ biggest bullpen addition of the offseason remains Kirby Yates, who is just a year removed from being one of baseball’s most dominant closers and should have every opportunity to lock down that job in Toronto. Tyler Chatwood brings plenty of intrigue on his one-year deal, too, while A.J. Cole returned on a Minor League deal. Add those names to a mix that already includes Ryan Borucki, Rafael Dolis, Jordan Romano and a deep group of young arms who could be used in multi-inning roles, and this bullpen group profiles as a strength for the Blue Jays.
The 2020 season was a turning point for this group, which had trailed behind the rest of baseball for several years when it came to power arms. Suddenly, the Blue Jays had multiple options on the back end, which manager Charlie Montoyo used liberally after closer Ken Giles was injured with a right forearm strain and then a right flexor strain. This also allowed Montoyo to mix in high-leverage arms in the fifth or sixth inning, for example, if the situation called for it. Doing that over 60 games is one thing, but a full 162-game slate will be another challenge entirely, which is why Toronto is adding not just talent, but numbers.
This was the Blue Jays’ second pitching addition of the day after adding right-hander Joel Payamps off waivers from the Red Sox earlier in the day. For that move, it was right-hander Shun Yamaguchi who was designated for assignment.
Fisher, who comes off the roster to make room for Phelps, came to the Blue Jays in the 2019 Aaron Sanchez deal with the Astros. Still just 27, Fisher clearly possesses physical tools, but the outfielder struggled to put it all together consistently with the Blue Jays.
Over 16 games in 2020, Fisher hit .226 with an .811 OPS before being hit in the knee by a pitch in a live batting-practice session and landing on the injured list. Fisher was already on the fringes of the Blue Jays’ outfield depth chart, but this offseason’s addition of George Springer on a six-year, $150 million deal sealed his fate.
Beyond Fisher, Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk, the Blue Jays now have Jonathan Davis and Josh Palacios on their 40-man roster. Davis, one of the club’s better defenders and a speed threat off the bench, would likely be the No. 5 outfielder on the depth chart if the season opened today.