With the Blue Jays having a final position player decision to make, it appears it’ll ultimately boil down to keeping Melvin Upton or Ryan Goins.
What is the most important part of an MLB bench? That’s a question the Blue Jays have likely been asking themselves over the last couple weeks. There is always an obvious need for a back-up catcher, which will be Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and a back-up infielder and outfielder. Darwin Barney was re-signed in the offseason, so he’ll return as the infielder off the bench.
The final two spots for the Blue Jays have some variables to consider, such as the positional flexibility of those who are guaranteed to make the roster, like Steve Pearce and his ability to play first base, second base, or in the outfield corners.
With that in mind, we don’t know for sure how the Blue Jays will use their bench positions this season. One of things we do know is they can’t keep everyone they’d like to. If Pearce is at first base, Justin Smoak will need a spot on the bench, assuming he makes the Opening Day roster, which all indications are that he will. If Pearce is in the outfield, the Jays could have a couple outfielders on the bench.
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Players like Melvin Upton, Ezequiel Carrera, and Ryan Goins will make up those last 2 spots, with the final decision coming this weekend. The Blue Jays will need another outfielder whether they play Pearce in left or not, so at least one of Carrera or Upton will be needed regardless of how they construct the roster.
Ryan Goins’ skill set is a bit more redundant with the presence of Barney on the roster, but he’s expanded his resume in recent seasons. In addition to being an ace middle infielder, Goins spent a bit of time in the outfield last year, and has vastly improved at the position. He won’t win any gold gloves out there, but he can be trusted to make all the routine plays and likely a bit more, especially with more reps.
As we’ve discussed before, Goins has to make the Opening Day roster or risk being exposed to the waiver wire, where he would almost assuredly get claimed. While he’s not a crucial part of the Blue Jays immediate plans, his presence has always been necessary, especially with the checkered healthy of middle infielders, Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis. But if Goins heads north for the opener, that means one of Ezequiel Carrera or Melvin Upton will not.
Upton’s inclusion makes sense on the roster, as he could serve as the right-handed half of a platoon, a late-inning defensive replacement, or baserunner. He doesn’t figure to serve as a starter all that much, but he should have enough other ways to contribute. Only, according to Gregor Chisholm a few days ago, the final decision may come down to Upton or Goins, as the Blue Jays haven’t accepted letting go of the latter.
In my mind, it really boils down to a question of where the depth is needed more. If the Blue Jays don’t feel confident in their middle infielder depth beyond Barney, then I understand the reluctance to lose someone like Goins. On the other hand, the Blue Jays don’t have a stacked outfield depth chart either, and there’s no guaranteeing that Jose Bautista and Steve Pearce can stay healthy enough to man the corners on a full-time basis, all season long. They’d have Carrera and Goins as well, and could potentially call on Dalton Pompey later, but losing Upton makes it feel dangerously thin.
There are still more variables, as Pearce’s availability in the outfield hinges on the performance of Justin Smoak at first as well. If Smoak can’t handle regular duty, Pearce will end up there on a regular basis. Also, if the Blue Jays manage to sign Angel Pagan, as they’re reportedly in the mix to do, the whole picture gets scrambled even further.
Bottom line, it’s March 31st and we still have a couple questions. They are going to be answered very shortly, but the Blue Jays are keeping us hanging right up the last minute this year.