During the late innings of last night's tilt with the Red Sox, Scott Downs pitched about as well as you can ask. He faced four hitters; striking out one and inducing three ground balls from the others. One man reached on an error but was quickly erased via a double play. Scott Downs is really, really good at his job - this much we know.
During my liveblog of the game, the question of re-signing Downs arose. We pondered what type of contract he might be offered (I prefer to think of Scott Downs as a gentleman of modest means. He wouldn't demand a big deal, he'd simply accept one of the many offers for his services.) Considering that, insanely, Brandon Lyon got a 3 year, $15 million dollar deal to not close for the worst team in baseball last winter, just about anything is in play. Lyon's pitched well enough this season (credit his wacky low HR rate), though not as well as Downs. How valuable does that make Downs? To the right team in the right (read: wrong) situation: very valuable. To the 2011 Blue Jays? Not so much.
The topic of reliever value is much debated around the nerdier end of the internet and known as bullpen chaining. I'll attempt to nutshell it: if you lose a reliever, his replacement doesn't come "off the street" in the form of a true replacement player.
If Kevin Gregg does down with an injury, you don't call up a Brad Mills or a Marc Rzepcynzki to be the closer, you call up Rommie Lewis or (God willing) Jeremy Accardo. When you call up that bullpen arm, they don't slot directly into the closer's role. Everybody just moves up the chain into a slightly higher leveraged role and you make due until the big man returns.
As such, unless the team finds itself requiring the extra boost a sure-thing stopper provides and is willing to pay for it, you have to let Scott Downs walk at the end of this season. The team is grooming David Purcey for a role similar to Downs' with a few other internal options and scrap heap finds lurking in the shadows. Even if a guy like Purcey comes in and doesn't pitch as well, the greater impact on the success of the season is minimal.
He's been a great Blue Jay for 5 years, but asking him leave big bags of money on the table is foolish and unlikely. He's 34 years old and this is his last deal. He might hang around for some Orosco years as he approaches 40, but his time in Toronto is nearly up.
Image courtesy of Reuters via Daylife