Back in November of 2016, the Toronto Blue Jays made a relatively unpublicized transaction, selecting reliever Dominic Leone off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Now almost a year later, Leone has solidified his spot as one of the most reliable and valuable arms in their bullpen. As a disappointing 2017 Blue Jays’ season concludes, the Jays should be hopeful that Leone will be a major contributor for them going forward.
Leone earned his first career save on Monday, holding the San Francisco Giants scoreless in a 4-3 win. As of his most recent outing, the 25-year-old righty is 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA, notching 76 strikeouts in 66.1 innings and a 2.1 WAR, the best of any Toronto reliever. Since mid-June, he owns a 1.59 ERA in his last 33 outings, walking nine and holding opponents to a .205 average. Not bad for a guy who looked like he might be pitching his way out of the majors as recently as last season.
Originally drafted and developed by the Seattle Mariners, the M’s deployed Leone in their bullpen in 2014 with huge success. Going 8-2 with a 2.17 ERA as a 22-year-old, his future looked bright. Instead, he began 2015 0-4 with a gaudy 6.35 ERA and found himself packaged with Welington Castillo, Gabriel Guerrero and Jack Reinheimer for Arizona’s Vidal Nuno and Mark Trumbo on June 3, 2015. He only pitched in three games for the D-Backs the rest of the year. He was up-and-down between the majors and Triple-A Reno in 2016, performing well in the minors, but struggling in the bigs, with a 6.33 ERA and -0.4 WAR. After Leone was DFA’ed in November, his future was all but uncertain.
Toronto took a chance on Leone, whose youth and partial success in the majors was enough of a reason to give him a look. He has more than rewarded them, as he’s arguably been their best reliever, especially since All-Star closer Roberto Osuna began to take a nosedive in late July. Blowing six saves and giving up 15 earned runs in 16.2 innings in that span is a major cause for concern, and while Osuna is currently out due to the birth of his child, it might not be crazy to see Leone pegged as the Jays’ closer as soon as the 2018 season.
I was of the mindset that the Jays should have been willing to field trade offers before this year’s deadline on all of their players, with the possible exception of Marcus Stroman. Osuna’s highest trade value came a few months ago, when he earned his first All-Star nod with 22 saves, 0.714 WHIP and a 2.06 ERA in the first half. Now that he has struggled so horribly in the second half, Toronto should still consider trading him, and name Leone as his replacement. If the Jays aren’t competitive again in 2018, it shouldn’t much matter who their closer is anyway, and if they can get a prospect or two for Osuna while he still has some level of value, pull the trigger. Then they could go with Leone, who has been remarkable, for the ninth inning of the games which they actually have a lead.