Blue Jays must trade a position player to see change

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 04: Jose Bautista
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 04: Jose Bautista /

While there will be lineup turnover with Jose Bautista on his way out, will things really be that different for the Blue Jays in 2018? Unless they trade a position player, it will be more of the same next year.

It feels like we’ve been talking about a need to improve team speed and defence for a couple years now, but the issue still exists with the Blue Jays roster. 2018 has been a disappointment for a variety of reasons, injury being the biggest culprit, but relying on the long ball from an aging and hurting roster finally ran it’s course in 2017.

Now that the Blue Jays have missed the playoffs, surely they’ll look to make a significant change in this area now, no? Well, not so fast.

We know for a near certainty that Jose Bautista won’t be returning in 2018, but what we don’t know is who will replace him. The most likely in-house candidate is Teoscar Hernandez, who continues to impress since his September call up. Hernandez figures to get a long look as an every day outfielder in spring training, and could well be tasked with taking over from one of the Blue Jays’ most iconic figures.

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If they don’t go with Hernandez in right field, then chances are the front office will have brought someone in from the outside, whether through free agency or trade. There are several options in free agency this year, but it’s hard to say what kind of philosophy the front office will employ, and what kind of money they’ll allocate to the outfield. If they do add from outside, one would think they would look for a more well-rounded skill set, especially to compliment the existing pieces.

And speaking of those existing pieces, that brings me to the point of this whole ramble; if the Blue Jays want to see a different offensive philosophy/approach in 2018, they’re going to have to do more than swap out their right fielder.

As things currently stand, Bautista’s spot is really the only one with room to move. Assuming everyone can get healthy for spring training, the infield will return Russell Martin behind the plate, and Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis, and Justin Smoak around the infield, with Kendrys Morales as the DH. The outfield would have Kevin Pillar and Steve Pearce, and whomever ends up as the right fielder.

Let’s say it’s Hernandez in right, well then we’re looking at a lineup that looks something like this:

1) Devon Travis- 2B

2) Josh Donaldson- 3B

3) Justin Smoak- 1B

4) Kendrys Morales- DH

5) Troy Tulowitzki- SS

6) Russell Martin- C

7) Steve Pearce- LF

8) Teoscar Hernandez- RF

9) Kevin Pillar- CF

Does that really feel any different from 2017? It doesn’t make much difference to me, at least on paper.

Of course, it’s hard to fathom a healthy season from Tulowitzki and Travis at this point, so the middle infield depth will be important once again as well. But if the Blue Jays really want to make some kind of difference in their offensive philosophy, then some kind of trade will need to be made.

Maybe it’s Steve Pearce, who would be the easiest to move with just one year and 6.25 million remaining on his contract. He’s a serviceable outfielder and first baseman, and showed plenty of ability with the bat when he was healthy this year. Moving him would create the flexibility to start Hernandez for sure, and also bring in a free agent that fits that needs of the club.

Perhaps it’s Kendrys Morales, who has drawn the ire of many Blue Jays fans on social media lately, deservedly so or not. Moving him (and likely eating some of his contract) would allow the Blue Jays to use the DH spot with more flexibility, and perhaps keep other veterans in the lineup more often when they’re banged up.

Or it could be Troy Tulowitzki, who has three years and 54 million remaining on his current contract. It’s doubtful that the Blue Jays would find anyone interested in taking on his contract, but if they were willing to send some significant money back, Tulo has enough upside that there could be an interested party under the right circumstances. Trading Tulowitzki would represent selling an asset at it’s lowest value, but I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility this offseason.

Lastly, it could be Josh Donaldson, though trading him hardly solves the offensive issues the Blue Jays faced in 2017. If they’re to compete next year, they’ll need their star to be present, healthy, and productive.

Next: Blue Jays need to show Donaldson the money

One thing is for sure though, simply moving on from Bautista won’t be enough of a change in approach for John Gibbons‘ club, unless all of the chips fall in the right places. If Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins really want to be serious about next season, and also want a change in philosophy, then something has to give. As it stands, one player just isn’t enough, if you ask me anyway.