The Toronto Blue Jays enter the 2017 season with two somewhat glaring holes in the field and the projected batting order.
The first is the situation at first base with Justin Smoak currently projected to get the largest share of at-bats to begin the season. That completely depends on how manager John Gibbons plans on using Steve Pearce.
The second hole would be the situation in left field which features the reported platoon of Melvin Upton Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera, who are not ideal platoon mates to begin with in the first place. Upton has a guaranteed spot on this roster. Despite the hot stretch in September and into the 2017 post-season, Ezequiel Carrera I feel should in no way be a lock for the 2017 Opening Day roster.
In 2016, Carrera slashed .329/.372/.452 with a wRC+ of 123 against left-handed pitching. Against right-handed pitching, Carrera’s line was .218/.307/.320 and a wRC+ of 71. Upton’s line against left-handed pitching was .275/.341/.533 and a wRC+ of 132. Against right-handers, it was .226/.274/.320 and a 71 wRC+.
The good news is that these two left fielders can mash left-handed pitching. The bad news is that they are well below average against right-handers. Playing to the strengths of Upton, he would be used solely against left-handers. To be a platoon mate, the second member should naturally hit right-handers, which Carrera did not in 2016. Zeke has reverse splits which make them not ideal together in left field.
When you dive into the career splits for Carrera, the reverse splits trends remain. For his career, he has hit .245/.304/.345 with a 78 wRC+. He is well below average against right-handed pitching. After looking into these numbers, a solution needs to appear to solve this problem. What do these options look like? Let’s take a look.
The first solution that many want to see is what the Blue Jays have in Dalton Pompey. Many seem ready to write off Pompey as a AAAA player who bounces between AAA and the majors. Pompey has no real sample size to go off of, but from the small sample sizes we have seen, Pompey has shown a good eye at the plate. He has the ability to draw walks and make the opposing pitcher go deep in the count, a good sign for more consistent at-bats. However, the small sample size does not favor Pompey against right-handers, like Carrera.
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Pompey can provide better defense in left than Carrera and potentially, a more logical platoon mate for Carrera. We have not seen enough from Pompey to concretely say that, but it is coming to the time where we need to see what Pompey has. The main thing working for Carrera to be the 4th outfielder is that he is out of options and would 100% be claimed on waivers but also that Pompey still has options.
The second solution would be to make a last-minute addition to the team before Spring Training or during Spring Training. A logical platoon mate for Upton that currently is available on the market is veteran Angel Pagan. Pagan likely would be on a major league contract, which would require some roster shuffling to the 40 man roster.
I doubt we see a signing of Pagan, but the rational for it is clear. An addition of Pagan would leave the left field completely solidified and productive.
The final solution to this problem and the likely route the Blue Jays take is to go with what is projected. Due to the fact that Carrera seems to be well liked in the clubhouse, a favorite with John Gibbons, and that he is out of options would say he will be on the Opening Day roster for 2017.
Carrera is still only 29 years of age and has just 980 career plate appearances. Perhaps the September and October we saw from Carrera in 2016 is a sign of things to come. The consistent at-bats in September and October for Carrera compared to his lowly months of July and August were obviously a massive help. When Carrera filled in for Bautista in April and May, he was productive as well.
Fangraphs Steamer projections for Carrera are decent for a 4th outfield and platoon mate with Upton. Carrera is projected to log 252 plate appearances with a slash of .253/.313/.359 with 4 home runs, 24 RBI, 7 stolen bases and a wRC+ of 81. Upton is projected at .229/.295/.394 with 11 home runs, 40 RBI, 12 steals, and an 82 wRC in 350 plate appearances. It isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible.
While Carrera still isn’t an ideal platoon mate for Upton, Carrera can be effective in short spurts. It is entirely possible we can see him beat out Upton for the majority of the playing time in 2017 too. There are many things that can happen during the course of a major league season. The roster spot for Carrera should by no means guaranteed if a better option comes available to the Blue Jays, but if things go as many think they do after the spring, Carrera has the chance to continue his development into a serviceable left fielder in 2017.