Blue Jays: What to do about the outfield picture

TORONTO, ON - JULY 26: Jose Bautista
TORONTO, ON - JULY 26: Jose Bautista /

With the Blue Jays adding Nori Aoki to the 40 man roster, they now have five outfielders on the big league roster, How do you manage that many?

The Blue Jays made a pair of deals on Monday’s trade deadline, sending Joe Smith to Cleveland, and Francisco Liriano to the Houston Astros. The latter deal netted them two players, a solid MiLB addition in Teoscar Hernandez, and 35 year old veteran Nori Aoki.

Many folks have debated Aoki’s worth to this team, and it is debatable to be certain. He is making 5.5 million this season, so many believe the reason he was included in the trade was to offset some of Liriano’s salary going the other way. He does come with one extra year of control as well, as he’s arbitration eligible for the fourth and final time next year, after coming to the MLB later in his career.

In theory, Aoki could be a solid addition to this group, as he’s always hit between .280-.290 throughout his career, and gotten on base at a solid clip. He’s also left-handed, and is the opposite of most of the Blue Jays’ hitters, many of whom rely on their power numbers to provide value.

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However, the Blue Jays outfield picture is a bit crowded at the moment, especially with Aoki’s addition. Of course, they have Kevin Pillar in centre, who is flanked by Jose Bautista and Steve Pearce. Both of the corner outfielders have experience at first base, but that position is occupied by the team’s best hitter this year, Justin Smoak. Kendrys Morales has heated up at the plate and is entrenched as the DH, so there’s nowhere for Bautista or Pearce to go.

As it is, Ezequiel Carrera would likely enjoy a little more playing time than he’s receiving, but with the way Pearce has swung the bat, it’s been difficult to put anyone else in left field.

For the time being, I’d be surprised if Aoki gets much playing time. Gibbons will continue to roll with the hot hand in Steve Pearce, and Smoak isn’t coming out the lineup either. Bautista has been struggling to be sure, but he’s not going anywhere either.

The likely scenario is the Blue Jays continue to explore the trade market in August, as the contending teams continue to look for upgrades after the non-waiver deadline. The rumour mill was pretty quiet on Bautista at the deadline, despite his expiring contract (it does have an option, but it’s unlikely to be exercised at this stage). He did/does have 10-5 trade veto rights, but it was reported that the front office never got close enough to moving him to actually seek his permission on a deal.

Bautista didn’t generate a pile of interest in the last offseason either, so if there is a contending team that is interested in adding his bat to the lineup, it’s entirely possible he could clear waivers. With his positional flexibility, he could play in the outfield, first, or even third base in the right situation. so trade interest could be as simple as being an injury away for another team.

I don’t see Pearce being able to make it through waivers, and I’m not sure how much interest Carrera would generate in an August deal. The Jays will likely continue to make some calls, even potentially shopping Aoki as well if they can drum up any interest.

Chances are they’ll give it some time before they make a move, but carrying five outfielders for an extended period of time doesn’t seem all that likely. Remember, both Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins could play in the outfield in a pinch, as could Morales (let’s hope it never gets to that), so there’s really no need for that many, especially without Tulowitzki in the infield for the foreseeable future.

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If nothing else, it’s entirely possible that Aoki could end up designated for assignment with his new club, which would be a shame if you ask me. Yes, he’s not the sexiest acquisition, but a guy that can get on base at a decent clip is a welcome addition in my mind.