With a few question marks left on the roster like the bullpen, or who may start in left field, the Blue Jays may already have their answers on the bench.
As we all know, the Blue Jays had several key free agents this offseason, including potentially losing 3 regulars from their starting lineup in Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders. Obviously Bautista ended up returning, but outside of that, most of the lineup returns for another season.
Kendrys Morales takes Encarnacion’s place in the lineup, and the Blue Jays have also added Steve Pearce, who is capable of playing first base, second base, or the corner outfield positions. He’ll likely spend most of his time at first base, possibly in a platoon with Justin Smoak.
Speaking of Smoak and Pearce, that takes us to the bench situation. In the American League, we’re traditionally talking about a 4 man bench, and sometimes it gets shortened to 3, as we saw several times with the Blue Jays last year, when the extra arm was needed in the bullpen.
Every bench needs a back-up catcher, and it’s likely that new addition Jarrod Saltalamacchia will get the gig, barring a strong spring showing from A.J. Jimenez. “Salty” is set to earn just 1.25 million if he earns a big league job, and with a lot of experience as an MLB starter, he makes sense as the back-up to Martin. One spot down.
Moving to the utility position, the Blue Jays agreed to a 1 year, 2.887,500 deal with Darwin Barney, and he’ll more than likely fill that role. He’ll face competition from a long time Jay who is out of options in Ryan Goins, but it’s hard to imagine Barney ending up anywhere but on the roster. Two down.
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We’ve already touched on the first base situation, which will likely be split in some capacity by Smoak and Pearce. They could platoon to start the season, but the pressure will be on Smoak to show he belongs in the starting lineup, especially because Pearce isn’t exactly a stiff against RH pitching. Either way, one of the two fills a bench spot, except on days when Pearce is in the outfield. That’s three.
The last spot will be an outfielder, and that’s the only question mark about how the bench will fill out. Pillar and Bautista will return in CF and RF respectively, leaving the LF job as a bit of an open competition, at least at the moment. The Blue Jays may still bring in another free agent option, such as Angel Pagan, who was mentioned here by our own Clayton Richer, but they may also choose to use their remaining resources on bullpen upgrades.
At the moment, the left field competition would be between Melvin Upton, Ezequiel Carrera and Dalton Pompey. Pompey will have to flat-out earn the job in spring training, and seems like the longest shot of the group, despite having arguably the highest upside.
If things were easy, manager John Gibbons could just platoon Upton and Carrera and call it a day. Unfortunately, they’re an imperfect platoon, as both hit much better against left-handed pitching, with Carrera hitting .329 vs LH pitching as opposed to .218 vs right-handers. Upton hit .275 vs lefties, and .226 vs same-sided arms. Because of that, it’s hard to envision them being rolled out as a platoon.
The left field battle will affect the final bench job, but look for Upton to be the 4th member, starting against left-handers, and coming in as a late inning defensive replacement.
If it plays out this way, we’re looking at Upton/Smoak/Barney/Saltalamacchia as the 4 man group. The Blue Jays have had both stronger, and weaker bench groups in the past.
How do you feel about this one?