Blue Jays: What happens when Josh Donaldson returns?
By Jason Lee
The Blue Jays face some tough roster decisions when Josh Donaldson returns from the DL. What should they do about their position player surplus at the Major League level?
The Blue Jays are in an enviable position right now: they have too many talented players on the 25-man roster that should be playing every day. The Jays’ problems look to be further magnified once the team’s best hitter, Josh Donaldson, returns. Here’s a look at what the front office could be thinking right now as the fans and media are ready to assess their next move.
Catcher – Russell Martin
First Base – Justin Smoak
Third Base – Josh Donaldson
Center Field – Kevin Pillar
Left Field – Teoscar Hernandez
Everyone on this list should be considered a no-brainer. Martin is instrumental to the success of the pitching staff, Smoak and Donaldson are the Blue Jays’ best hitters, and Pillar brings value with his speed and defense. And while Teoscar Hernandez lacks a prolonged track record of success in the big leagues, he has more than proven his talents so far (.343/.395/.743) and has the underlying stats to support his breakout:
The Probable Regulars
Second Base – Devon Travis
SS/2B/3B – Yangervis Solarte
Right Field – Curtis Granderson/Steve Pearce
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The next tier of Blue Jays players are the “probable regulars” – players who’s playing time look to be safe unless something drastic occurs. Given Travis’s early-season struggles, some fans may be surprised to see his inclusion on this list. However, let’s not forget Travis has a tendency to heat up during the month of May. IF he does, Travis has the ability to carry a lineup by himself.
Solarte is another player that might not deserve to be on this list, but for a different reason. Already a fan favorite, Solarte has gotten off to a great start with the bat and regularly bats cleanup in the Blue Jays lineup. However, once Josh Donaldson returns, Solarte’s playing time could take a slight hit as he’ll no longer be the everyday third baseman, but rather a utility infielder.
And finally, the Granderson/Pearce platoon. Both players are flawed, yet talented hitters who compliment each other perfectly. Together, the pair has five home runs and an OPS north of .900 – exactly what the Blue Jays had in mind at the start of the season.
Who’s Left, And For What Position
That leads us to the final group of Blue Jays’ position players. In case you haven’t been keeping track, here are the player’s who don’t have a guaranteed everyday role:
And here are the starting positions that are left:
Who Plays Shortstop
My best guess would be that the Blue Jays send Gurriel Jr. back to the minors for additional development. While Gurriel has excited fans during his cup of coffee at the Major League level, he is still only 24 years old with less than two years of experience in the minor leagues. More time in the minors will only benefit Gurriel’s development and if he keeps performing, Gurriel will likely be the first player to come up in the case of an injury to the infield.
In Diaz’s case, I believe he is destined for a semi-regular role. Although his ability to play shortstop increases the likelihood of playing time, Diaz (.213/.262/.443) hasn’t justified a starting role over a guy like Solarte. Look for Diaz to play shortstop only on the days when Solarte is covering for Donaldson at third or Travis at second.
Grichuk vs. Morales
And finally, that brings us to Morales and Grichuk. Neither are going anywhere given the Blue Jays’ cost to acquire them, yet neither have an easy path to regular playing time. In my opinion, the Blue Jays should give Grichuk, not Morales, more opportunities. Consider these two reasons:
- A free DH spot allows John Gibbons to rest some of his players. This is especially important given Donaldson and Travis’s injury problems. If Morales plays regularly, then the risk of injury increases.
- Grichuk is a good defensive outfielder. Moving Granderson/Pearce to the designated hitter role allows the Blue Jays to keep the effective platoon in the lineup while the outfield defense dramatically improves. This is critical when fly ball pitchers like Happ and Estrada are on the mound.
Given Morales’s lack of a defensive position and Grichuk’s superior defense and speed, it is clear that the roster looks to benefit significantly more with Grichuk in the lineup. However, if Grichuk continues to struggle, then the Blue Jays may have no choice but to play Morales while assuming the disadvantages of a fixed designated hitter.
Next: Blue Jays: Lourdes Gurriel’s extra value in his versatility
Whatever the Blue Jays decide, this is a good problem to have. While Grichuk and Morales have struggled to start the season, both are still quality players. Throughout the course of a long season, players are going to have their ups and downs and injuries are going to arise. In the case of the Blue Jays, they won’t be short of reinforcements.