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Jays release Ryan, eat $15 million

Jul 8, 2009, 4:45 PM EDT

Even though there was no financial incentive for doing so, the Jays
opted to release former closer B.J. Ryan on Wednesday. The move comes
after Ryan gave up three runs in two-thirds of an inning against the
Yankees on Sunday. It was the only appearance he had made this month.

While his stuff still hadn’t come back, Ryan had a 1.04 ERA in 8 2/3
innings during June. Left-handers were hitting .250 with one homer in
36 at-bats against him. Walks were a big problem, but he’s not totally
useless now and there’s still a real chance that he’ll regain some
velocity.

It’d be a less surprising move if Ryan wasn’t so good when healthy
during his time with the Jays. After securing a big five-year, $47
million deal to take over as Toronto’s closer, he had the best season
of his career in 2006, posting a 1.37 ERA and 38 saves in 42
opportunities. After a 2007 season ruined by Tommy John surgery, he
came back last year and finished with a 2.95 ERA and 32 saves in 36
opportunities. Even with this year’s struggles factored in, he
converted 86 percent of his save chances for the Blue Jays.

More than his command problems, it was Ryan’s diminished stuff that seemed to sour the Jays on him. According to Baseball Info Solutions data,
Ryan’s average fastball bad dropped from 90.7 mph in 2007 to 88.9 last
year and 87.3 this year. His slider had fallen just as far (84.7 to
82.5 to 81.2), and since he was no longer able to get his fastball past
hitters, he was relying on the slider more and more.

I can’t help but believe there’s some behind-the-scenes stuff going
on here. The Jays had two other quality left-handed relievers in Scott
Downs and Jesse Carlson, so Ryan wasn’t going to be very useful if
reduced to a specialist role. But that still wasn’t a very good reason
to release him with a year and a half left on his deal. It’s entirely
possible that he’ll sort out his delivery and reemerge as an above
average reliever and maybe a closer next year. That the Jays chose to
let him go now suggests that he rubbed somebody the wrong way. He
couldn’t have been happy about his reduced role. He had pitched just
once in the last week, and he wasn’t given a chance to win back the
closer’s role even with Downs sidelined.

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