Blue Jays: What if Solarte and Diaz come to play?
The Blue Jays acquired two middle infielders who have a lot of starting experience. If Troy Tulowitzki is on the DL and they thrive, what happens then?
Having depth is one of the best ways to keep a season from falling apart, and that was very evident for the Toronto Blue Jays last year. They had a talented veteran team going into 2017, but once the injury bug started making it’s weekly attack on the roster, things started going downhill in a hurry.
When the offseason began, Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro made it priority number one to address that lack of depth, especially at the keystone positions. Last season the Blue Jays were only able to get 116 combined games out of Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis, which meant that Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins became regular starters. With all due respect to both former Jays, that is hardly a recipe for success.
That series of events lead to the Jays seeking an upgrade up the middle, and they found not one, but two big leaguers with MLB success, a cost controlled contract, and most importantly an upgrade in their depth department. Making separate trades for Yangervis Solarte of the Padres and Aledmys Diaz of the Cardinals gives a new strength to John Gibbons‘ bench, and a safety net for the seemingly inevitable injuries to either Travis or Tulowitzki. Solarte in particular was pretty good last year, hitting .255/.314/.416 with 18 home runs, 64 RBI, and 1.3 bWAR earned in 128 games played. Diaz struggled in his sophomore campaign, but he was an NL All-Star in 2016 during his rookie season, and it wouldn’t be surprising if a fresh start made a difference.
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It’s exciting to think about that depth and what it could do for the Blue Jays. But if also got me thinking about another scenario: What if one or both of them play well enough that Gibby can’t keep them out of the lineup? It sounds like a good problem to have, and it is, but it would also come with some other issues if everyone else is healthy.
Let’s say for a minute (I realize it’s far-fetched) that both Tulowitzki and Travis avoid the disabled list all year, or at least avoid a long term stint. That could leave Solarte on the bench more than he’s comfortable with, and it could also result in Diaz being stashed in Triple A, depending on how the Jays want to construct their bench. They’re professionals and they would have to deal with such a scenario, but I wonder how things would go if they’re reversed, and the “bench” guys challenged for the starting spots.
For Devon Travis it would be a humbling moment and a signal that he needs to turn his MLB career around at this early stage. There’s no denying his talent, especially at the plate, but he’ll need to prove he can stay healthy to reach his big league potential. He understands that, and the threat of losing playing time to another healthier, more productive player should be a real motivator for him.
If the same thing were to happen to Troy Tulowitzki, it would introduce a very different dynamic. At 33 and already expected to miss the start of camp dealing with bone spur issues, Tulo’s star has lost a lot of the lustre that he came to Toronto with, as injuries have dried up his numbers and his playing time. The 5X All-Star hit just .249/.300/.379 with seven home runs and 26 RBI last year, playing in just 66 games. He looked like a shell of his former self before he shut it down for good, and the Blue Jays are hoping he can finally get healthy and contribute as he’s capable.
If he can’t do that in 2018 though, then what? What if he misses the first month, and Solarte is one of the best hitters in the lineup? Sure, you can still get him into the lineup once or twice a week by spelling him at second base, shortstop, third base, and maybe more, but are you going to remove him from the lineup to put an ailing Tulowitzki back in? What if Tulowitzki is simply being outplayed by the other three middle infielders? Does a 20 million dollar player become something less than an every day starter?
A lot has to happen for this to play out, but you’ll forgive me if I can see it happening with relative ease. Many Blue Jays fans underestimate just how good Solarte is, and if Diaz can find the form that made him an All-Star just one season ago, playing time could start becoming a legitimate battle.
I believe that Tulo has enough left in the tank to bring a solid contribution to a team, when he’s healthy. That caveat could be an important distinction for him though, especially with the depth that’s in place. He does have two more years remaining on his contract after this season, so turning him into an expensive bench player is far from an ideal scenario. However, if the Blue Jays are in the playoff race this year and Solarte and Diaz are a big reason why, sitting them down in favour of Tulowitzki will be very difficult, former MVP candidate or not.