Blue Jays DFA Tim Mayza, another reminder of all that's gone wrong in 2024

TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays have had to make a number of difficult decisions this year — a predicament that comes with the territory of an underperforming team in a cratering season with no room for error.

Another of those choices occurred on Saturday before the Blue Jays’ 9-3 win over the New York Yankees when the club designated Tim Mayza for assignment. The left-handed reliever had struggled for much of this season and hit a new low in Friday’s loss, giving up five runs on five hits without recording an out in the 16-5 loss. The Blue Jays recalled right-hander Jose Cuas, recently claimed off waivers from the Chicago Cubs, from Triple-A Buffalo.

“It was tough,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said of the decision. “Talked to (Mayza) last night a little bit and, again this morning. It’s just been a tough year for him, obviously.”

Mayza entered the season as a core member of Toronto’s bullpen — a unit crumbling more by the day — and was coming off a season with a 1.52 ERA that ranked fifth-lowest among all qualified relievers. But this season went sideways almost immediately, as his average velocity dropped and his sinker-slider combo didn’t have the same zip.

After Friday’s outing, Mayza’s ERA ballooned to a career-worst 8.03. Even if moving on from the lefty could be easily explained from a baseball standpoint, it was nonetheless jarring to see the Blue Jays cut ties with their longest-tenured player. It’s a move emblematic of a season gone wrong and a reminder of the fragility of building an elite MLB bullpen.

From the start of the season, the Blue Jays’ bullpen has been dealing with mounting injuries and puzzling underperformances, which has meant the group went from a strength in 2023 to a liability in 2024. The Blue Jays’ relievers’ combined ERA of 4.79 ranks 28th in the majors.

Of the relievers who led Toronto in appearances last year — Mayza, Yimi García, Jordan Romano and Erik Swanson — none are currently on the active roster.

The Blue Jays have seven days to either trade Mayza or place him on waivers where he can be claimed by another club. Swanson was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo in May after struggling and he hasn’t made meaningful improvements in the minors.

Romano, their closer, has been on the 15-day IL with right elbow inflammation since May 30 and just encountered another setback in his recovery after feeling more discomfort after throwing on Friday. He’s shut down and scheduled to meet with orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Keith Meister on July 2 for further evaluation. García, one of the only relievers having a strong season, is on the IL, too, though he’s making steady progress to pitching off a mound again, according to Schneider.

Being unable to lean on his old faithful relievers has made managing the bullpen a challenge. The fact that outside of Trevor Richards and Chad Green, no other relievers have pitched as consistently as the Blue Jays need them to has led them to this point. The bullpen’s struggles are doubly frustrating, especially as the offence begins to show signs of life, scoring five or more runs in their past six games.

“It’s always an opportunity for guys to step up and guys have in certain moments and you hope for those moments to be more consistent,” Schneider said.

A Toronto bullpen without Mayza will take some getting used to. Mayza was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 12th round in 2013 and made his MLB debut in 2017. Through the years, the left-hander developed into one of the club’s best leverage relievers, even overcoming a devastating elbow injury in 2019 that required 16 months of rehabilitation during this tenure in Toronto.

In 352 appearances since 2017, Mayza had a 3.87 ERA. Meanwhile, off the mound, he was a respected and beloved member of the pitching staff, known for his unmatched work ethic, professionalism and ability to joke around with his teammates. “He’s the guy that everybody loves,” said Richards.

“As part of the organization he’s a class act as a player, teammate, husband and father,” Schneider said. “He’s done a lot for this team and the players, being a stabilizing guy down in the bullpen.”

“We all saw what he’s done in the last couple of years and we know what he can do, and that’s no secret,” Richards said. “Just to see what he’s done this year is hard because he puts in the work. He does more than everybody and he’s one of those guys that you want in the bullpen and it sucks to see.”

The decline in performance and health of Toronto’s bullpen likely impacted Mayza disproportionately, as the manager wasn’t able to find as many opportunistic spots for Mayza to face lefties. Making matters worse, Mayza had a significant drop in his sinker velocity, averaging 91.9 mph on the pitch this season compared to 93.4 mph last year. It led to a career-worst strikeout rate (13.2 percent). His ground-ball rate dipped this year (39.1 percent compared to 58.2 percent in 2023), while his fly-ball rate grew (33.7 percent compared to 19.2 percent in 2023).

The Blue Jays tried to find solutions, including tweaking Mayza’s delivery and adding a cutter, but time ran out to course correct, and the Blue Jays opted to make a change, recalling Cuas, who had a 7.43 ERA in 13 1/3 innings with the Cubs this year and allowed a two-run home run in his inning of work on Saturday.

“(Mayza is) contact-reliant and when you don’t really have your velo, it makes it a little bit tough,” Schneider said. “It was just an uphill battle from the get-go coming out of spring. I think if his stuff is 94, 95, 96 (mph) like it has been, obviously a different story. I think it was just a combination of matchups and stuff.”

If Mayza goes unclaimed, he could accept an assignment to Buffalo to work on his issues, but Schneider said he expects he’ll land elsewhere given the general need for left-handed pitching around the league.

Richards agreed that Mayza has a second act coming.

“He’ll get a job and good chance next year, he’s doing what he did last year,” the right-hander said. “That’s part of the game. That’s how it goes. Sometimes you hit a rough patch and you get through it.”

Players understand the business of professional baseball, which dictates that as performance declines, so does a player’s job security. Mayza’s performance simply hadn’t been good enough this season to warrant continuing to use him. And yet, like Cavan Biggio, who was DFA’d earlier this month before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mayza was a beloved teammate and friend to many in Toronto’s clubhouse, and they will feel his absence in the coming days.

“He’s one of the best clubhouse guys, he’s one of the most honest, loving guys on our team,” said Chris Bassitt, who earned the win on Saturday after pitching six one-run innings and taking a 101.6 mph Aaron Judge line drive off his right forearm. “To lose him really sucks. And it was a bad day for us to start, no doubt. We’re all rooting for him. I think last year’s one-ERA or whatever he had was not a fluke. I think he’s that good. It’s just he’s going through a rough stretch and I think a lot of it is just blindly unlucky.”

A win helped salvage the tough day and the Blue Jays can win the series against the Yankees on Sunday with Kevin Gausman on the mound. But Mayza’s DFA was another sharp reminder of all that has gone wrong for the Blue Jays in a season that has been fraying from the start and is hanging by a thread.

(Photo: Mark Blinch / Getty Images)

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