Blue Jays have roster options after Colabello

Apr 17, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello (15) walks to first base after getting hit in the head by a pitch during the fourth inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello (15) walks to first base after getting hit in the head by a pitch during the fourth inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

On Friday, the Blue Jays received news that no big league club wants to hear: one of their star hitters has been suspended for performing enhancing drugs.

It’s a tale that’s plagued the MLB for the last couple decades, but had yet to play a role in the history of the Blue Jays. That was the case until the announcement of the suspension of first baseman/DH Chris Colabello for 80 games.

The news broke a couple hours before the Jays were set to take on the Oakland A’s, stunning Jays fans, media, and even his teammates. The 32 year old slugger tested positive for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, an oral steroid commonly known as Turinabol, which is commonly associated with the East German doping scandal. This is Colabello’s first offence, and under the new rules surrounding PED’s, he’ll miss the next 80 games and also be ineligible for the 2016 postseason.

In a statement provided to Brendan Kennedy at the Star, the first basemen said: “The only thing I know is that I would never compromise the integrity of the game of baseball. I love this game too much! I care too deeply about it. I am saddened more for the impact this will have on my teammates, the organization and the fans of the Toronto Blue Jays.”

While Colabello and the Jays may look to fight his suspension, the reality is that it’s nearly impossible to prove your innocence once you have tested positive for PED’s.

Obviously this revelation effects the Blue Jays a great deal, but what are the immediate after effects?

1. Smoak becomes an everyday player

Justin Smoak was brought in last season to help stabilize first base defensively, and hopefully to open the switch-hitting first basemen’s untapped potential. Smoak was a former first round pick, and has never truly lived up the hype he had coming in to the MLB through the Mariners’ system.

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Thus far in 2016, Colabello had been receiving more playing time than Smoak, which was unsurprising given the offensive contribution provided in 2015. Without Colabello to split time at first, Smoak will be tasked with taking over the majority of reps, likely getting some at bats against left-handed pitching for the first time in awhile, and a lot less defensive replacement in the late innings.

Many have argued that Smoak (or Colabello) would benefit from being a consistent starter, and given this development, Smoak will be afforded that opportunity, at least for the next half-season. It could be the precursor to the breakout season that scouts have waited nearly a decade for, and could potentially be Smoak’s last real chance to establish himself as a full time starter in the MLB.

2. The Blue Jays will use the DH position more fluidly

Having three capable players who can fill the 1B and DH positions has been a treat and a challenge for manager John Gibbons since Colabello broke out last year. DH Edwin Encarnacion has been allowed to focus almost exclusively on hitting, playing in the field mostly during inter league play, and to give the occasional day at DH for another player.

Without Colabello’s bat to fit into the lineup, the Jays could explore using Encarnacion more at first in his absence. The move would allow more freedom with the DH position, and could provide valuable rest for players like Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, Russell Martin and more. Keeping those bats in the lineup when their legs need a rest, and affording them that opportunity to rest, will be a key factor come September.

3. The Jays need to fill the roster spot

In a corresponding roster move, the Blue Jays recalled Chad Girodo who joined the bullpen Friday night and got his first appearance. The move is expected to be of the short term variety, with Drew Hutchison expected to join the club on the weekend and make a spot start to give the rotation an early breather.

It is possible that Girodo will be optioned in favour of Hutchison, and that Hutchison will be returned to AAA Buffalo after his start on the weekend. At that time, the Blue Jays will look to bring up another position player, and have a few options to consider.

Jesus Montero

Picked up from the Mariners during spring training this year, Montero is a former top prospect of the Yankees system, who has never realized his potential at the big league level. The enigmatic slugger has been the target of criticism in recent years, but had a much better 2015, and is tearing the cover off the ball in the early going of the AAA season. This could be the opportunity Montero needs in order to re-establish some value. His defensive limitations, and status as another right handed hitter may work against him.

Next: Blue Jays sign outfielder Michael Bourn

Michael Bourn

The Blue Jays just announced the acquisition of veteran Michael Bourn on Thursday, and he could see a much faster path to the big leagues with the recent developments. Bourn is a career .266/.331/.356 hitter with 326 career stolen bases. He was released by the Atlanta Braves earlier this year, after having been acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Indians last year.

Bourn is not the player he used to be, but he still provides some useful speed, adequate outfield defence, and some experience hitting at the top of the lineup. The Jays are unlikely to use him much in the role, but on days when he could be replacing current leadoff hitter Michael Saunders, Bourn could fill the role on admirably on occasion.

The Jays could also consider guys like Matt Dominguez, Casey Kotchman, or even other outfielders like Domonic Brown, or spring training MVP Darrel Ceciliani when healthy. With the presence of Bautista and Encarnacion, who can both play first, the Blue Jays don’t necessarily have to bring up a first baseman, and may elect to go another route.

Regardless of how the Blue Jays proceed, it’s an unfortunate circumstance to have happened to the contending ball club. Colabello will be missed not only for his production, but also his clubhouse presence, where he has been a respected and well-liked member of the team.

However, baseball is a game that requires more than 25 players to get through any given season. Call it insensitive, but it’s as simple as: “next man up”.