Yimi García signs with Blue Jays

December 1st, 2021

The Blue Jays signed free-agent right-handed reliever to a two-year, $11 million deal on Wednesday.

García, 31, spent part of the 2021 season as the Marlins’ closer, posting a 3.47 ERA with 15 saves in Miami before he was dealt to Houston at the Trade Deadline. García struggled with the Astros, pitching to a 5.48 ERA down the stretch and allowing seven runs over five innings in the ALDS and ALCS, but he pitched four scoreless innings in the World Series.

García represents a more aggressive play than we’re used to seeing from the Blue Jays in the relief market, though he does fit their traditional blueprint. Toronto has shopped closer to the bottom of the bullpen market in recent years, often finding excellent value on smaller deals, but a multi-year guarantee for a reliever is rare for this organization -- both in recent practice and stretching back through the club’s history.

This is an expected change in approach, though, as the Blue Jays move into their competitive window with money to spend and even more reasons to spend it. The Blue Jays are coming off a 91-71 season in which they fell just short of a playoff spot on the final day, and their bullpen is clearly a place where they can improve. This will be done with depth and upside: García represents both.

When the Blue Jays arrived at Spring Training in ’21, Kirby Yates was the presumed closer, but he injured his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery. Julian Merryweather got a crack and looked like the early savior, but an oblique injury in April cost him nearly the entire season. David Phelps was soon lost for the season, too, while Rafael Dolis couldn’t recapture his 2020 form. Jordan Romano saved the day and Tim Mayza was one of the best stories of the season, returning from a Tommy John surgery of his own to pitch in high-leverage situations, but the bullpen group simply couldn’t keep up at points.

With so much of the offseason still ahead, García’s role isn’t set in stone, but that’s just how the Blue Jays like it. While Romano eventually emerged as the true closer in ’21, manager Charlie Montoyo and the Blue Jays’ staff were happy to rotate back-end arms through that role, using some more aggressively when high-leverage situations arose in the seventh or eighth. García will be part of that group, whichever shape it takes, and his experience in the ninth is only a bonus.

What makes García fit the Blue Jays’ model is his combination of strike throwing (he’s walked just 2.1 batters per nine innings over his career) and fastball upside. The Blue Jays love a high-spin fastball, and García ranked in the 95th percentile of fastball spin rate in 2021, according to Statcast. That fastball averaged 96 mph, with a breaking ball and cutter finishing off his arsenal.

Along with Romano, Mayza and García, the Blue Jays will have Trevor Richards and Adam Cimber returning along with Merryweather, who still offers significant upside when healthy. There will be some internal competition, and there’s still a decision to be made on the role of former No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson. Regardless, the Blue Jays have a solid bullpen foundation to build from at this point in the offseason. Expect more moves, though, after ’21 provided yet another lesson that there’s no such thing as too much bullpen depth.