Cole back to Blue Jays on Minor League deal

January 9th, 2021

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are bringing back , one of their most reliable bullpen arms from the 2020 season, the club announced Friday.

The Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training will be worth $1 million if Cole cracks the Major League roster, a source confirmed, which he’ll certainly have an opportunity to, and includes incentives based on innings pitched.

Cole, who turned 29 earlier this week, was non-tendered by the Blue Jays in early December, but the sides remained mutually interested in a reunion down the road. Last season with the Blue Jays, Cole posted a 3.09 ERA over 23 1/3 innings, striking out 20.

When the Blue Jays lost closer Ken Giles early in the year, Cole moved from a mid-inning role up to high-leverage situations, where he looked at home. Cole picked up one save of his own, but was a key piece in the late innings for Charlie Montoyo alongside Rafael Dolis, Jordan Romano and Anthony Bass. The Blue Jays believe that Cole is capable of more, too, after averaging 93.4 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2020 and limiting hard contact.

Earlier this week, the Blue Jays hosted right-handed reliever Liam Hendriks at their new facilities in Dunedin, Fla. Hendriks represents the top of the relief market, where the Blue Jays could still shop, but Cole represents the type of signing that Toronto's front office has done well with over the past five years.

Much of what was written about Cole when he signed with the Blue Jays last offseason -- also on a Minor League deal -- stands true today. Cole has the velocity and spin to miss bats, and his strikeout rate should improve from his 7.7 per nine innings in 2020. Walks have been an issue for the former starter in the past, but the Blue Jays like what they saw in '20 as they move forward with “strike throwing” as one of their stated goals.

With Giles a free agent after undergoing Tommy John surgery, one of the biggest questions the Blue Jays have to answer is who their closer is in 2021. The club trusts Dolis in the role, and Romano has closer written all over him if he can stay healthy and seize the role, but Cole is likely to slot in behind those arms and any external signings. He’ll need to compete for a job on a Minor League deal, of course, but should have every opportunity to grab one.

The exact role that Cole competes for will also be impacted by the Blue Jays’ strategy with some of the young arms around him. In the shortened 2020 season, the Blue Jays rolled out young starters like Anthony Kay, Thomas Hatch and Julian Merryweather effectively in multi-inning relief roles. That often bridged the gap to Cole and the back-end arms, but with the Blue Jays expected to return most of those pitchers to their starting roles long term, the bullpen will take on a more traditional look.

Now a veteran of six Major League seasons with the Blue Jays, Nationals, Yankees and Cleveland, Cole owns a career 4.65 ERA over 19 starts and 84 relief appearances.