TORONTO - The Toronto Blue Jays added some depth to their pitching staff Friday, agreeing to a US$32-million, five-year contract with Cuban right-hander Yariel Rodriguez.

The 26-year-old has experience as both a starter and a reliever in top leagues in Cuba and Japan. Rodriguez could battle for the fifth spot in Toronto's starting rotation or may be used out of the bullpen.

As a reliever in 2022, Rodriguez was 6-2 with a 1.15 earned-run average with the Chunichi Dragons of the Nippon Professional Baseball League.

He had 60 strikeouts and 18 walks over 54 2/3 innings.

At last year's World Baseball Classic, Rodriguez did not record a decision over two starts for Cuba. He posted a 2.45 earned-run average over 7 1/3 innings with 10 strikeouts and six walks.

Rodriguez did not return to his Japanese team after the WBC and instead sat out the year in anticipation of making the move to MLB as a free agent.

“Yariel brings a diverse arsenal, impressive athleticism, and ability to get swing and miss to our team,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said in a release. “He adds starting depth to our pitching group and has a chance to impact our major-league team in multiple roles.

“We're excited to welcome Yariel to the Blue Jays and look forward to seeing him on the mound in (the) spring.”

To make room on the 40-man roster, utilityman Otto Lopez was designated for assignment.

Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi are pegged for Toronto's rotation in 2024 with right-hander Alek Manoah looking to return to the mix after a down year. Manoah finished third in American League Cy Young Award voting in 2022.

In addition to Rodriguez and Manoah, pitchers Mitch White, Bowden Francis and top prospect Ricky Tiedemann could also be in the mix for the fifth spot in the rotation.

The Blue Jays have had a rather quiet off-season after missing out on two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, who opted to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Toronto brought back outfielder Kevin Kiermaier on a one-year deal and signed utilityman Isiah Kiner-Falefa to a two-year contract. The Blue Jays recently signed designated hitter Justin Turner to a one-year deal.

Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training in Dunedin, Fla., on Thursday. Toronto will open its pre-season schedule against the Philadelphia Phillies on Feb. 24.

The Blue Jays will kick off their regular season on the road against the Tampa Bay Rays on March 28.

Toronto had an 89-73 record last year and was swept in the wild-card series by the Minnesota Twins. The Blue Jays have made the playoffs in three of the last four years but haven't won a game since reaching the AL Championship Series in 2016.

Toronto's last World Series title came in 1993.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2024.