I'm a terrible procrastinator. If there's something that needs doing today, I'm absolutely world-class at finding reasons why it can wait until tomorrow, or next week, or once the snow melts (see: lights, Christmas, taking down of). It's admittedly a less-than-ideal way to run one's life, but I've never been fired from a job and The Org Wife hasn't divorced me yet, so I can't imagine I'll be changing anytime soon.
Thankfully, the people in charge of the Toronto Blue Jays don't share my approach to putting things off until the last possible second. Or at least, that's one charitable explanation for their decision to rebuild the relief pitching corps during the later stages of the 2012 regular season, as opposed to the off-season.
I'll count myself among those who weren't exactly beaming about the decision to trade the talented yet enigmatic Travis Snider for Brad Lincoln, a young-ish bullpen arm who had struggled as a starter in his early career. But as time has worn on, I've begun to look at that deal as part of a package -- one that began with the J.A. Happ trade and that culminated with the Lincoln and Steve Delabar trades.
Taken as one, these trades have put the bullpen in a far different (and far stronger) position than it was in the early part of the season, and in a way that sets up some continuity for 2013 as well. Delabar and Lincoln, along with Casey Janssen and a hopefully-healthy Sergio Santos, can already be pencilled in as half of what should be a pretty effective, reasonably young, hard-throwing bullpen (or more than half, if the eight-man pen rightfully fades from the plans next year).
The emergence of Aaron Loup is also promising, and if he can continue performing at even a remotely comparable level to what he's delivered thus far, he would make a fine left-handed complement to that core relief group.
As for the aforementioned Happ, the seeming indecision about his role after his acquisition -- starter or reliever -- puts him in a group of three pitchers fighting for what looks like two spots. One of Happ, Brett Cecil or Aaron Laffey seems likely to open next season as a starter with another filling a long-relief role (noting that Cecil is set to work out of the bullpen as a September call-up and Laffey is already plying his trade there, while Happ is currently pitching quite effectively in the rotation even as I type).
*EDIT after the fact: Laffey, of course, is not actually signed as of now for 2013, making this less of a competition than it seemed. These are the sorts of things I should check before I write, I suppose.
The point is, barring injury or significant trades, there are a great many relatively solidified spots already in the bullpen for 2013, and this puts next year's team miles ahead of where it has been entering the last couple of seasons. Rather than filling out the bullpen with available arms on one-year free agent contracts just prior to spring training -- basically the modus operandi for much of the Anthopoulos tenure -- he tended to it when the opportunity presented itself in another way.
I have to wonder whether Alex Anthopoulos began looking ahead to this off-season several weeks ago, and determined that if he had the chance now to add the bullpen personnel he wanted, he was going to do it so that he could focus on the more glaring weaknesses that need to be addressed over the winter. In other words, unlike your humble correspondent, there was no procrastination.
Anthopoulos has largely acknowledged the areas of need: the starting rotation, left field, second base (probably) and first base/DH. There was plenty of scoffing about Anthopoulos' comments in which he lauded the bullpen (and the offense) as "championship-calibre", but even if you take the boasting with a grain of salt, the arms he's added to the bullpen mix have at least added a small measure of certainty to the off-season.
I'll be the first to acknowledge the volatility of relief pitching (remember May when we all felt like the bullpen would be a 2012 strength?), so all of this might be moot if the performances out there all go pear-shaped. But Anthopoulos has clearly changed his approach to building a bullpen, focusing on controllable pitchers now rather than scrambling for springtime leftovers, and if those pitchers can continue their current level of play, it'll be one fewer box to have to try to check off for 2013.