The Blue Jays Roster: Bench Crisis? What Crisis?

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Sep 3, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

So let’s look at the 2015 Toronto bench in light of these three categories:  the starter-on-the-bench, the fill-in, and the specialist.

At catcher, we have Dioner Navarro.  If he can produce at 2014 levels, he will be an example of that rare first category:  a bench player with starter-level skills.  He will likely be the best backup catcher in baseball, and one of the few that can legitimately be used as a pinch hitter against both RHP and LHP.  Hard to imagine a better option.

At the corner infield, we have Danny Valencia.  His lifetime wRC+ of 138 against LHP is exceptional (by comparison, in Edwin’s two all-star years he averaged about 135 against LHP).  Plus, Danny has a decent career UZR/150 of -3 at 3B and did very well at 1B (admittedly, in a small sample) in 2014.  Danny is a perfect example of the second category – a player who has weaknesses (65 wRC+ against RHP) but who brings very valuable specialist skills (LHP).  Again, it is hard to imagine a better option in this role.

Oct 15, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Assuming that Kevin Pillar will be the starting LF as long as Saunders is out, Andy Dirks likely projects as the fourth OF.  Dirks is an interesting case.  Steamer projects him for a .261/.318/.391 line and a 99 wRC+ in 2015.  This is pretty good – by comparison, the average MLB OF had a .258/.321/.396 line in 2014, with a wRC+ of 103.  Dirks has a career UZR/150 of 5.1 in LF and 8.3 in RF, and can even play CF in an emergency.  These stats would translate to a fWAR/600 of 1.5-2.0 in 2015 – very nearly MLB starting OF level.  Of course, the wild card with Dirks is his health, but if he can get back (and stay) on the field until the All-Star break Saunders should be back, pushing Pillar (perhaps?) back into the primary bench role.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

Which brings us to the fourth bench position – the middle infielder.  As noted above, one option would be Steve Tolleson, whose splits fit the bench-player-as-specialist description perfectly.  A second option would be Ryan Goins.  Goins defense is somewhere between good and elite, but his bat is somewhere between extremely weak and unbearable.  If Goins could defend and hit at 2013 levels, it might make sense to carry him as a late-inning defensive replacement.  But given Alex A’s desire to rest Reyes on day games after night games on turf, the best answer might be Kawasaki, particularly if his off-season lower-body strengthening program has borne fruit.  Kawasaki hitting is below average, but the backup middle infielder is customarily the weakest bat on the bench anyway. A late-game infield of Donaldson, Kawasaki, Izturis and Valencia could hold a lot of leads, particular if the Jays emphasize ground-ball pitchers in the bullpen.

The bottom line?  I find it hard to understand how the Jays’ bench – as currently constructed – can be described so negatively.  In my view, three of the four positions are well above average, and there are workable options for the fourth bench spot.

Next: LF Trade Options for Blue Jays