The Blue Jays and right-hander Paolo Espino are in agreement on a contract, according to a report from Jon Heyman of the New York Post. There are no details on the specifics of the deal, though it’s presumably a minor league pact with an invite to major league Spring Training.
Espino, 37 next month, started his professional career all the way back in 2006 when he was drafted by Cleveland in the 10th round of that year’s draft. He first broke into the big leagues more than a decade later with a 6.00 ERA in 24 innings of work split between the Brewers and Rangers during the 2017 season. Espino was then relegated to the minors for the next two seasons before eventually resurfacing with the Nationals during the 2020 season. Though he pitched just six innings for the club during the shortened season, the performance went reasonably well as he posted a 4.50 ERA and 4.02 FIP with seven strikeouts across two appearances.
That cup of coffee with the Nationals in 2020 kicked off a four-year stint in D.C. that saw Espino relied upon as a swingman for the rebuilding club. Espino appeared in 77 games for the Nationals between 2021 and 2022, drawing 38 starts and pitching 223 innings during that time. While his numbers, while unimpressive, were more or less that which would be expected of a club’s #5 or #6 starter: a 4.56 ERA (88 ERA+) and a 4.70 FIP despite a meager 19.5% strikeout rate thanks in large part to a walk rate of just 5.2%.
Things took a turn for the worse for Espino in 2023. The veteran righty pitched just four innings for the big league club this past season, and was lit up for 11 runs on 14 hits and three walks while striking out just three in that limited time on the mound. Though Espino’s 13 starts at the Triple-A level went better as he posted a 4.33 ERA across 60 1/3 innings of work, Espino’s season came to an end in July when the righty was placed on the injured list due to a flexor strain. The end of his time in the Nationals organization came shortly thereafter, as the club placed Espino on release waivers in early August.
Since then, Espino has made nine starts in the Dominican Winter League, pitching to a strong 2.40 ERA in 48 2/3 innings of work while striking out 25.8% of batters faced. That strong performance clearly caught the attention of the Blue Jays, who decided to take a chance on Espino as a depth option headed into the 2024 season. The club appears set in the rotation with a quintet of Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Yusei Kikuchi, Chris Bassitt, and Alek Manoah penciled in while the club prepares for the arrival of top prospect Ricky Tiedemann, but Espino could act as a depth option alongside the likes of Bowden Francis and Wes Parsons or perhaps provide competition for Mitch White as the club’s long relief option out of the bullpen.