The options give the Blue Jays the opportunity to retain Gregg if the club lacks other closing options over the next two years. That's important considering that left-hander Scott Downs and right-hander Jason Frasor -- Gregg's competitors for the ninth-inning job this spring -- are both eligible for free agency next winter.
"We do have a younger bullpen," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said on Friday. "This does give us some protection a little bit, knowing that we have the potential to control a guy like a Kevin Gregg with some experience closing games, and having a guy, if we felt it was the right baseball move for us, for 2011 and also potentially for 2012."
Including the two club options also increases Gregg's potential value as a bargaining chip around the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31. Anthopoulos is focusing on the club's long-term situation and is trying to gather as many assets as he can. Having Gregg in the fold as a potential trading chip is of value for a Toronto team that is trying to obtain young players for the future.
For Gregg, it was the chance to close that gave the Blue Jays the edge over other suitors such as the Marlins and Rockies, even though those teams have a better chance of competing for a playoff spot this season.
"Closing is something that is sought after," Gregg said. "I enjoy doing it -- every aspect of it. That was a big part of me coming over to Toronto, but it's also a young ballclub with a lot of potential and I wanted to be a part of it."
Gregg also qualified as a Type A free agent this offseason, and there is the chance that he could be worth compensation Draft picks again down the road. That also is true of Downs or Frasor, who would likely be at least Type B free agents next offseason. If all three relievers qualify, the Jays could have a handful of compensatory picks to help build up their farm system.
"Right now," Anthopoulos said, "with any free-agent signing or trade, we're trying to give as much value and flexibility to the club, and at the same time, try to protect the player and the upside of the player."
Adding Gregg to the mix could also signal that Anthopoulos is considering trading Downs, Frasor or another reliever. As things currently stand, the Blue Jays have more than a dozen arms in the mix for the seven available bullpen roles. With Gregg, Downs and Frasor set to make the team, that leaves few jobs up for grabs.
Bullpen candidates who are out of player options -- meaning they would need to clear waivers before being sent to the Minor Leagues -- include Brian Tallet, Dustin McGowan, Shawn Camp, Merkin Valdez and Sean Henn. Tallet and McGowan (if healthy) are also in the running for rotation jobs this spring.
Other relievers in the mix for a spot on Toronto's Opening Day roster include Jeremy Accardo, Casey Janssen, Jesse Carlson, Josh Roenicke, Steven Register, Willie Collazo, Zach Jackson, Lance Broadway, Zech Zinicola and possibly Scott Richmond, who is also a starting candidate. Zinicola -- acquired in December's Rule 5 Draft -- will need to be offered back to the Nationals if he does not make the Jays' roster this spring.
It's a wide-open race, with a surplus of depth, but Anthopoulos said that did not necessarily mean a trade was in the works before Spring Training. Maybe so, but the Blue Jays have reportedly been entertaining offers for both Downs and Frasor.
"I anticipate going into camp with the number of arms that we do have," Anthopoulos said. "We certainly have a lot of bodies and numbers. At the same time, we have a lot of guys that are out of options and we certainly have some Minor League free agents, as well."
What the Blue Jays lacked, in Anthopoulos' opinion, was a pitcher with an extended track record as a closer; that's where Gregg comes into play. Gregg won't be handed the closer's job, though. Anthopoulos reiterated that manager Cito Gaston will have the final say on which pitcher will open the year as the primary ninth-inning arm.
"He's going to come in and we expect him to pitch late in the game," Anthopoulos said of Gregg. "But, again, that'll be up to Cito to determine. We don't have anybody that we've anointed the closer right now. Kevin Gregg has had a lot of closing experience. He's certainly not going to be handed the job, but he'll have every opportunity to compete for that role."
Over the past three seasons, the 31-year-old Gregg has posted a 3.86 ERA with 84 saves in stints with the Marlins and Cubs. The right-hander has also blown 20 saves over that time period -- seven with Chicago a year ago while earning $4.2 million -- and he allowed 13 home runs last season, which was tied for the most yielded by a Major League reliever.
Gregg did finish with 23 saves and 71 strikeouts over 68 2/3 innings with the Cubs in 2009, but he lost the closer's job to Carlos Marmol in August and was shut down toward the end of September due to a crack in the cartilage in his left rib cage. In the season's final two months, Gregg allowed 18 earned runs over 20 1/3 innings, giving him a bloated 7.97 ERA over that time period.
"Last year was an interesting year," Gregg said. "It started off a little rough, got really good for a few months, and then the last couple months I had some bad outings that really kind of threw me off. It's one of those things where I was coming off a [left] knee surgery, that has completely healed now, and now there's a chance to do it all over again. Fatigue kind of set in for me last year."
Even with that recent history of inconsistency, Gregg has more experience as a closer than Downs or Frasor, who have performed well in setup roles. Downs and Frasor helped out in the ninth inning last year after former closer B.J. Ryan battled injuries and command issues, leading to his release in July. Ryan is still owed $10 million for this season.
"If Kevin Gregg wins that job in Spring Training," Anthopoulos said, "that means Cito decided he was the right man for the job and he probably had the strongest camp. If he doesn't win that job and he ends up getting the eighth-inning role or the seventh-inning role, that isn't a bad thing either. That can only strengthen our 'pen."
Adding Gregg might be the Blue Jays' final move leading up to Spring Training, according to Anthopoulos. Then again, maybe not.
"We have a lot of irons in the fire with respect to trades and also free-agent signings," Anthopoulos said. "But for me to characterize what I think the likelihood of us doing anything prior to reporting to camp, it's very hard to say at this point. As I sit here today, I don't see us doing anything, but that's pretty fluid and it could change."