Jays release Ryan, eat $15 million

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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.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.