Jays pitcher Oliver to return for 20th season
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Darren Oliver pitches against the Boston Red Sox in Spring Training action in Dunedin, Fla. on Wednesday March 7 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
TORONTO - Frustrated with how last season ended and ready to become a full-time dad, Toronto Blue Jays reliever Darren Oliver was ready to retire after 19 seasons in the major leagues.
A big trade and a visit from Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos changed that.
The Blue Jays are bringing back the 42-year-old veteran for a 20th season. They previously exercised Oliver's US$3-million option for the 2013 season, and announced Wednesday that they have convinced the reliever to return to Toronto.
Oliver, the Blue Jays set-up man for most of 2012, posted a 2.06 earned-run average last season, his first in Toronto. It was the lowest ERA of the southpaw's career and the third-lowest mark in the American League among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched.
Despite his success, he was considering retirement and wasn't prepared to return to Toronto without his wife and two children.
"I've always told you guys, I'll play until they tear my jersey off," Oliver said. "But I've got three other people I've got to take care of and they're the first and foremost."
That's when Anthopoulos and director of scouting Perry Minasian made a trip to Dallas to convince Oliver's family to come back.
"We went out to dinner to one of our favourite restaurants in Dallas ... and we had a great time," said Oliver. "We probably sat there for three hours.
"I've known Perry for 20 years and my wife got a chance to sit and talk to him and talk to Alex."
The timing of the trip likely worked in the Blue Jays favour, coming right after Toronto pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins that netted pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle and shortstop Jose Reyes. Oliver, who was not thrilled with the way last season ended for the Blue Jays, was now interested in the chance to join a potential winner.
"Last year those last six weeks were very tough," Oliver said. "When you sit there for the last two months and we were kind of out of it ... it was like we win today, lose two, win today, lose two. It was tough.
"When they made those moves ... it made that team into a really really good chance for us to get to the playoffs. Obviously at this point in my career I want to be a part of that."
Oliver had a 3-4 mark last season in 62 appearances. In 716 career games, including 229 starts, he has posted a 115-94 record and a 4.53 ERA.
The Blue Jays have dramatically reshaped their roster after a disappointing 73-89 campaign last year. The pitching staff is much stronger with the addition of starters Johnson, Buehrle and National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.
With the Blue Jays starting rotation getting an overhaul, Anthopoulos was pleased to bring a veteran presence back to the bullpen.
"It's huge, maybe huge isn't a strong enough word," he said. "I mean you're talking about a left-hander that keeps putting up 2 ERAs and gets better every single year.
"It blows my mind what he continues to do. When you watch him you're more amazed. Just strikes, no fear, poise."
Oliver, a Kansas City native, has played for nine teams over his career, including the Texas Rangers on three separate occasions.