Back from shoulder surgery, Sergio Santos hopes to regain Blue Jays’ closer job

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The Blue Jays were largely praised when they acquired Sergio Santos from the White Sox last winter, but his first season with Toronto was a bust, as he made just six appearances due to a nagging shoulder injury which eventually required surgery. Casey Janssen stepped up as the Blue Jays’ closer in his absence by saving 22 games in 25 chances while posting a 2.54 ERA, but Santos tells Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com that he’s ready to turn the page on 2012 and reclaim the closer job.

“Casey did an unbelievable job, but at the same time, I would love to be the closer,” said Santos, who is reporting to camp in early February. “That’s the role I relish. I would love to be able to go in and just compete for the job. If we go in and we compete and he beats me in the spring, I have no problem with being a seventh- or eighth-inning guy — whatever they need me to be.

“But just a chance to compete will be great, and if we’re both healthy and throwing well, with Darren coming back, our bullpen is going to be just fine.”

At the very least, the Blue Jays have makings of a potent late-inning combo. Janssen figures to have the edge over Santos going into spring training, but it’s worth noting that he’s coming off November surgery to relieve discomfort in the AC joint of his right shoulder.

Santos was solid in the closer role for the White Sox in 2011, posting a 3.55 ERA, 30 saves and a 92/29 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings. The 29-year-old right-hander is owed $6.5 million over the next two seasons while his contract includes team-friendly club options from 2015-2017.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.