With Devon Travis looking like he’ll begin the season on the disabled list, it re-opens the debate about who should lead off for the Blue Jays.
One of the offseason goals for the Blue Jays was to find a player or two who brought some extra speed and on-base ability, making the lineup less reliant on the long ball. They didn’t exactly achieve that goal with their free agent additions, but the lineup looks talented nonetheless.
It’s very likely that Devon Travis will be the lead off hitter for John Gibbons’ lineup, but he’ll have to be healthy enough to do so. It’s looking more and more likely that he’ll open the season on the disabled list, meaning Gibbons will have to come up with a temporary solution at the very least.
While Jose Bautista is an oft-suggested choice because of his on-base ability, I’m not a big fan of using him in that role. I’m aware of the Carlos Santana/Cleveland argument and how he’s flourished in the role, but I like Bautista in the 3 or 4 spot, having runners on base to knock in. Travis does a good job of getting on base, but he struggles at staying healthy, something that he’ll hopefully rectify once he gets himself right.
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While he’s gone, the Jays may turn to Bautista, but I’m hopeful they’ll look elsewhere. My first choice would be Steve Pearce, who had an OBP of .374 last year in 302 plate appearances split between the Orioles and Rays. Granted, he wasn’t so hot in that area in 2015 with a .289 mark, but he showed the ability at .373 in 2014 as well, leading me to believe he could be an effective choice.
If not Pearce or Bautista, Ezequiel Carrera could work, at least as a short term solution. He’ll have to earn his position on the roster of course, but consider he’s out of options, it seems unlikely the Blue Jays will let him go, barring other roster moves. Dalton Pompey is playing well this spring, including at the WBC, but he’s got an uphill climb.
Carrera’s on base percentage was .323 last season, and just .307 against righties, so he’s a debatable option. In the playoffs, he was a totally different story, which lead to him leading off several games for the Blue Jays. He was good for a .333/.429/.583 slash line Texas in the ALDS, before slowing down with the rest of his teammates, and just a .235/.235/.471 line against Cleveland.
Another option might be someone who is reluctant to move up in the order, a rare thing in baseball. He didn’t seem to care for leading off in the past, but Troy Tulowitzki could be a candidate to move up in the order. If leading off isn’t his bag, maybe Josh Donaldson makes sense hitting first, following by Tulo and Bautista. It would shorten the lineup a bit, but that’s what happens when you lose a player like Travis to injury.
The Blue Jays gave Kevin Pillar a shot early in the 2016 season (when Travis was hurt..), and he struggled in the role. It’s possible they could try him again, even if it’s just against lefties, but he’s not an ideal candidate either. Russell Martin‘s OBP has dropped from .402 in 2014 with the Pirates to .335 last season in Toronto, but he could look to take a less homer-happy approach at the dish as a lead-off guy, something that may benefit his output either way.
Regardless of who fills the role to begin the season, look for Travis to be the first choice of Gibbons, as long as he can stay on the field. His career .301/.342/.489 slash line makes him the obvious choice in my mind, so here’s hoping he can get that baulky knee of his in game shape, sooner than later.