Blue Jays: Roster has pressure to perform due to strong depth

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 22: Teoscar Hernandez
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 22: Teoscar Hernandez /

The Blue Jays have much improved depth over the 2017 version of the team, which should serve the veteran club well this season. It should also push for a motivated performance around the roster, as there are youngsters waiting for an opportunity.

The Blue Jays intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2018, and their offseason moves, while not terribly aggressive, still indicate we should believe Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro’s word on the topic. The front office didn’t sign a superstar by any means, but they did fill a number of needs within the 25 man roster, and have equipped John Gibbons and company with a more balanced group to work with.

As we’ve noted at Jays Journal multiple times over the offseason, the Blue Jays are much improved up the middle with the additions of Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte as depth. They also added to the outfield with Randal Grichuk and Curtis Granderson, the rotation with Jaime Garcia, and the bullpen through a multitude of different contracts and scenarios. The list was long and it’s mostly been taken care of, which is a task much easier said than done in today’s game.

The number of quality additions, coupled with the talent waiting in the upper minor league levels gives the Blue Jays a much different look for 2018, even if we don’t know how this team will stack up just yet. We’ve already seen evidence of that after well liked veteran Ezequiel Carrera was designated for assignment, and even now isn’t sure how or if he fits in the Blue Jays plans going forward.

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Carrera could be far from the only change we see on the roster this year, and that could be the case whether the team is in contention or not. It’s safe to say the Blue Jays could be sellers this year if they fall out of the race, and they have several expiring contracts that could bring back a worthwhile return. However, I’m also talking about a scenario where the Blue Jays are winning and change still happens.

For example, it would appear that Troy Tulowitzki is going to start the season on the DL, and may even miss a decent chunk of the early calendar while recovering from ankle and heel issues. The five time All-Star is a good bet to get his job back when he’s healthy, whenever that is, but what if Diaz and/or Solarte are thriving? Diaz hit .300 with a .369 OBP in his rookie season in 2016, and had 17 home runs as well. He struggled last year, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he finds his stroke again, especially at just 27 years old. Solarte is no slouch either, hitting 18 home runs last season and frequently the 4th and 5th spot for the Padres order while providing value all over the diamond.

It’s not like Tulowitzki will be benched if one or both of those guys thrive, but there’s a real chance his playing time could be reduced, assuming he’s healthy anyway. The same goes for Devon Travis, who has performed very well when he’s been able to stay in the lineup during the first three years of his career, but has also struggled with injuries. Tulo and Travis are the starters without much question at this point, but a lot can change in a month of missed action, and these are worthwhile upgrades from Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney last year.

It’s not just there either, as the outfield has plenty of depth to think about despite being a pretty veteran laden group. If everyone were healthy then they would start with Kevin Pillar in centre, Grichuk in right, and a platoon of Granderson and Steve Pearce in left field. Pearce is currently dealing with injury issues, so the Jays may have decisions to make to begin the season. It’s likely Teoscar Hernandez would be the guy in that scenario, which reveals how Pearce could be replaced in the blink of an eye by the talented youngster. If he hit the way he did in his September call-up, would the Blue Jays want to take him out of the lineup for Pearce, let alone send him back to Buffalo?

Hernandez is capable of playing all three positions and showed off his talents in September with eight home runs in just 88 at bats, so he’ll be ready and waiting when his number is called, even if it’s not for Opening Day. There’s also Anthony Alford, who is the #3 prospect in the Blue Jays’ system, and has the kind of talent that could push someone like Pillar to perform at his best, or simply lose his job to someone younger, cheaper, and potentially better. Alford is not far off from being major league ready, and could arguably handle the role right now if it were given to him. There are others like Dalton Pompey and Dwight Smith that would love to get a chance and could conceivably become big leaguers as well, so there’s no shortage of depth in the outfield.

It’s hard to say how the pitching staff will shake out, but I’d be willing to bet that all or most of Tim Mayza, Carlos Ramirez, Matt Dermody, Ryan Borucki, and maybe even Joe Biagini start their season in Triple A Buffalo. While none of them project to be lights out pitchers in 2018, each could conceivably serve on a big league pitching staff right now, which acts both as great depth and also motivation to those on the big league roster. In this scenario, if the Blue Jays decide to keep one or more of John Axford, Al Alburquerque, Tyler Clippard, or Craig Breslow, each would know there is competition waiting for their job if they falter.

And finally, we can’t help but talk a little bit about Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette, can we? I won’t sit here and say that they’ll have an impact on the 2018 big league team, but their presence in the Blue Jays’ system is certainly palpable. They’re two of the most talked about names tied to the Jays, and they haven’t even played about Double A yet. It’s expected that they’ll start their seasons there again this year, but the murmurs will only get louder if they keep performing at the torrid pace they did in 2017. Going back to the first named discussed, Troy Tulowitzki can add Bo Bichette’s name to the list of players who’d like his job now, and he still has three years remaining on his contract. Guerrero, if he can stick at third base, is the type of talent than has some fans arguing there’s no need to re-sign Josh Donaldson, right or wrong.

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I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. While the Blue Jays are still project as only a Wild Card team, I think it’s the depth they’ve built this offseason and over the last couple of years that makes me more optimistic. For some of the veterans returning to the Blue Jays this year, I would imagine it has them with one eye over their shoulder, and with a little extra motivation to perform. That’s never a bad thing.