TORONTO – Convinced B.J. Ryan will never again be an effective late-inning reliever, the Toronto Blue Jays released the two-time all-star Wednesday rather than letting him fester unhappily on the roster.
The unexpected move, reminiscent of the sudden divorce from Frank Thomas last April 20, was made as new closer Scott Downs, one of Ryan’s best friends on the team, was activated from the disabled list.
Ryan, who was due US$10 million both this season and next, gets what remained on the $47-million, five-year deal he signed in the winter of 2005, and is free to join any other club.
Still, it’s a shockingly quick fall from grace for the 33-year-old lefty, who recorded 32 saves last season after Tommy John surgery in 2007 but was reduced to mop-up duty in recent weeks.
“The player was not happy in the role he was in, it was the only role we had for him, and we don’t want the player to be unhappy, we’re not looking for unhappy players, we’re not looking for an unhappy situation,” GM J.P. Ricciardi said in an interview.
“This was probably the best thing for all parties, so we move on.”
Ryan’s release is the latest major piece of news to shake the franchise, coming a day after Ricciardi said he would listen to trade offers for ace Roy Halladay, who for years was off-limits.
The parting of ways with Ryan is much different, of course, as his game fell off so dramatically that manager Cito Gaston suggested over the weekend he might only be able to use the reliever in blowouts.
For a team with a starting rotation thinned out by injury and stocked with untested rookies, spending a bullpen spot on a reliever like that is a bad idea.
Ryan’s last appearance with the Blue Jays was Sunday in New York, when he took the loss after surrendering three runs in the fifth inning of a 10-8 defeat to the Yankees.
Overall he was 1-1 with a 6.53 ERA and two saves in 20 2-3 innings, with 13 strikeouts and 17 walks.
“In the role we have for him, he’s not going to be effective for us,” said Ricciardi. “This gives him a chance to get on with his life and it gives us a chance to move on.”
Gaston had expressed concern over Ryan’s inability to find the strike zone and a drop in velocity back in spring training, and quickly lost confidence in him once the campaign began.
Ryan’s DL stint with tightness in an obscure shoulder muscle back in April was widely seen as a face-saving way for him to work on his mechanics in the minors, and when he returned in mid-May, there were only brief blips of improvement.
By then Downs had taken over as closer and Ryan slowly slipped further and further down the depth chart, suggesting the pitcher he had been was gone for good.
“It’s our job to make professional evaluations and from the player we evaluated to sign to the player we have now, it’s two totally different guys,” said Ricciardi. “We just don’t think he’s going to be the pitcher he was when we signed him.”
That pitcher was one of the best closers in baseball.
Ryan signed his contract in the winter of 2005, and he rewarded the Blue Jays with 38 saves and a 1.37 earned-run average in 2006.
But he underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow early in 2007 and was never the same pitcher. Though he recorded 32 saves last season, his ERA jumped to 2.95 and many ninth innings were adventures.
Better things were expected this year as his arm should have been stronger two years after the surgery, but instead he went backwards.
On Monday he had even spoken of possibly reinventing his delivery and of the frustration he felt at not being able to get consistent work.
That’s no longer a concern of the Blue Jays.
“It’s hard to reinvent yourself at the major-league level,” said Ricciardi. “And it’s hard to get him in roles where he can help us. He did a good job for us when he was what he was.
“He’s obviously a different guy now.”