The Blue Jays are caught in an interesting situation coming into spring training this year. They have an aging team, a lot of committed money, very few roster battles and amazingly, an elite farm system full of players waiting for an opportunity to make strides at the MLB level.
So what will be their direction this season? Attempt to win with a flawed, yet talented roster? Sell off big league pieces and begin the rebuilding process? or toil in mediocrity without a true sense of direction? At this point it seems like upper management is having a hard time figuring out where they stand.
So with all of that up in the air, let take a look at a few interesting things to keep an eye on during Spring training.
The 5th starter battle
Already set with 4 high quality arms in their rotation, the Jays have the opportunity to go several different directions this season with their 5th spot. At this point it seems like the battle is Joe Biagini’s to lose. He was given the opportunity to start last season, and after his initial success, Joe struggled to consistently get outs and showed a lack of an ability to get into even the middle innings. In my opinion, Biagini has the potential to be a dominant bullpen arm. With an elite 4-seem fastball and a breaking ball that plays up a level in short innings role, it may be where he is best suited to remain.
Option 2 is what most people want…..A free-agent signing, preferably someone with some upside. Those options are few and far between. Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn and to an extent Jake Arrieta. Frankly, I don’t see any of these names happening for a variety of reason, money being the primary sticking point. Realistically if the Jays were to acquire a free-agent arm the only 2 names I can see coming to town would be Jaime Garcia or Chris Tillman. Both of whom are MLB caliber arms, with their fair share of warts, but for a 5th spot things could be worse.
Garcia like Tillman is a well established MLB pitcher who succeeds by using the one dominant tool he has. A sinking fastball. He is a lefty who spots his pitches and uses his strengths. Garcia rarely goes away from the formula that works for him and this allows him to be successful 2-3 times through the line-up. When Garcia is on his game, he frustrates hitters, generates soft groundball contact and breaks plenty of bats. He has found plenty of success in the NL Central, consistently posting ERA’s in the mid-3’s and well lower. He will never wow you with his stuff, and some advanced metrics people will naturally shy away from an arm like this, but in a 5th starter role you could do a whole lot worse than Jaime Garcia!
My personal choice would be let the kids play and go directly to Ryan Borucki. He is polished, young, left handed and has a very nice repertoire to go along with excellent control and a natural deception to his delivery that cant be taught. I believe her would offer the best mix of upside and ability in the 5th spot, and placing him there would give the Jas the opportunity to place Biagini in a role that gives him the best chance to show real value on this roster.
To describe the Blue Jays back-up catchers numbers last year as anemic would be a complement. As a group it was largely embarrassing every-time they came to the dish. Luke Maile is a fine defender but you can essentially flip a coin offensively between he and Josh Thole. What this team needs in this role largely goes against the grain of conventional wisdom.
Most teams look for their back-up to be a glove first guy, through and through. Looking for a stable hand to take 1 game a week. With an aging and banged up Russell Martin, the Jays need to break camp with a catcher that can relieve him multiple times a weeks and actually offer some sort of value as an offensive player. A catcher in this role would be looking at 300+ AB’s over the course of the year, even if Martin was healthy the entire season.
Last year during spring training, I wrote that i would do everything possible to try and acquire Austin Barnes. I believed he was the most undervalued player at the MLB level. This year its less about getting a guy and more about giving a guy a chance. Danny Jansen, despite his limited experience above A+ ball is that guy. He has an advanced approach, a great hit tool and is a quality natural receiver. If he was given the chance to learn and grow at the MLB level under the guidance of Martin his development curve would skyrocket. He would have his bumps and bruises along the way but for the long term development of this team and Jansen himself, this is the approach I would take, personally.
Pillar. Pearce. Hernandez. Alford. Carrera. Grichuk. Granderson. The options are plentiful for the Blue Jays in 2018. The issue is, that despite the variety of quality options there is no true stand-out talent in the bunch. Anthony Alford is far and away the best talent, but largely unproven above AA. Hernandez exploded on the scene in September but it appears his place will be in AAA Buffalo. Granderson and Pearce are platoon players. Randall Grichuk is very talented and blessed with big power, but has major contact issues. Carrera is a flawed offensive player who thrives on BABIP, he also happens to be a tire-fire in the OF and Kevin Pillar, whom I love dearly, is an elite OF defensively but everyone is aware of what he is and isn’t offensively.
The issue comes from how to move pieces to break up the log jam. Carrera and Pearce have little value in trade, Grichuk and Granderson were just acquired so their places are essentially guaranteed. Alford and Hernandez have options, so they will be sent to MiLB unless there is major movement during the spring. SO that essentially leaves a Kevin Pillar trade as the only possible move that can be made where you could potentially add value.
Pillar wouldn’t bring back a lot, but he could certainly bring back a power bullpen arm and a mid-level prospect, and with fine replacement option available, dealing him prior to his expensive years seems to be the intelligent play.
If it was up to me, the kids would be playing every day. Hernandez, Alford and Grichuk would get the opportunity to see 600 AB’s at the MLB level and see what the have. Unfortunately, I am not the decision maker here so my guess is Pillar is not moved, Alford and Hernandez start the season at Buffalo and the Jays roll with a heavily platoon based OF that consists of Pearce, Carrera, Granderson, Pillar and Grichuk.