TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays have waded into free agency for the first time this off-season, nearing an agreement with reliever Darren Oliver while signing fellow left-hander Aaron Laffey on Friday.
The moves come in what has thus far been a quiet winter for general manager Alex Anthopoulos, whose biggest transaction to date has been the acquisition of closer Sergio Santos from the Chicago White Sox for pitching prospect Nestor Molina.
They are also the club’s first player additions since their posting bid for Japanese ace Yu Darvish fell short and the Texas Rangers won his negotiating rights, much to the chagrin of a restive fan base.
The pending contract with Oliver is believed to be for a year plus an option according to a source who added that final details were still being worked out. The move isn’t very splashy, but provides manager John Farrell with another weapon with which to attack the AL East’s tough left-handed hitters.
Rookie Luis Perez was the team’s primary, and often only, southpaw in the bullpen in 2011.
A 41-year-old veteran of 18 big-league seasons, Oliver was 5-5 with a 2.29 earned-run average in 51 innings over 61 games for the Rangers last season. He held lefties to a .227 batting average while righties facing him managed only a .243 mark.
He’ll need to take a physical before the signing can be completed, something unlikely to happen before next week.
Laffey, 26, signed with the Blue Jays, according to another source, after being cut loose by the Kansas City Royals earlier this month. Originally chosen in the 16th round by Cleveland in 2003, he rose through the Indians ranks while Farrell was the club’s player development director and the two know each other well.
In a combined 47 games of relief for the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees last year, Laffey was 3-2 with a 3.88 ERA over 53.1 innings. Lefties batted .242 against him while righties hit him at a .358 clip.
The Blue Jays will give him an opportunity to compete for a spot in the starting rotation at spring training – Laffey was a starter during his first three big-league seasons – but he may end up back in the bullpen.
While the moves should help the bullpen, the heavy lifting remains for Anthopoulos, who is still seeking to add a frontline starter via trade, and perhaps a bat.