Blue Jays: Predicting the lineup by the time August rolls around
The Blue Jays have been pretty good in 2018, sitting at 21-19 at the moment despite dealing with injury issues. If they did have all hands on deck, how successful could they be, and what might that lineup look like? Here’s how I see things lining up by the time summer rolls around.
At the beginning of the 2018 season, if you told me that the Blue Jays would have their best offensive contributions from Kevin Pillar, Luke Maile, Curtis Granderson, Yangervis Solarte, and Teoscar Hernandez by the middle of May, I would have assumed something had gone drastically wrong. Yet, here we are on May 13th, and the Blue Jays are two games above .500, sporting a record of 21-19.
We’re now at the quarter pole for the season, and truthfully that’s always been a checkpoint for me in terms of individual performance. I fully realize that some players take awhile to get going at the beginning of the season, but you’d hope that after 40 games then things would normalize. For some players that’s happened, and yet others continue to struggle mightily.
The list is well documented, and includes the likes of Kendrys Morales (.146), Devon Travis (.148), Russell Martin (.151), Randal Grichuk (.106), and nearly the entire starting rotation. Their bullpen has been rock solid, and the offence has been better than expected as a hole, with the first group of mentioned names contributing beyond nearly anyone’s expectations. Raise your hand if you expected Yangervis Solarte to be the third hitter in John Gibbons lineup? If your hand is up, well, you’re a liar good sir/madam.
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In some cases, the patience has nearly run out for those that are struggling, and in others there is faith that the player can turn things around. For example, I think you’ll have a difficult time finding many people who think Kendrys Morales should be hitting in the middle of the order right now, as he’s dropped as far as 8th on Gibbons’ lineup card, and has been sitting more frequently. However, for someone like Devon Travis, whose struggles have continued at Triple-A Buffalo, I still believe he’ll get things figured out and become a solid contributor in Toronto this year.
For now the front office is juggling a lineup around a bunch of injuries, including Grichuk, Steve Pearce, Aledmys Diaz, and of course, Troy Tulowitzki. At some point hopefully the majority of them can return to the fold, and hopefully by that time the remainder of the roster will be healthy as well. If and when that happens, how might the Blue Jays best utilize their assets? Things have changed a lot in a couple months for me, and here’s how I would draw it up by August, in an ideal world.
1- Curtis Granderson (LF)
2- Josh Donaldson (3B)
3- Yangervis Solarte (DH)
4- Teoscar Hernandez (RF)
5- Justin Smoak (1B)
6- Troy Tulowitzki (SS)
7- Kevin Pillar (CF)
8- Russell Martin (C)
9- Devon Travis (2B)
It might be far-fetched to have Tulowitzki become a regular contributor this year, or maybe even again in his career, but I’m talking about an ideal situation here. When he has been right in a Blue Jays uniform, he’s still an above-average defender, and a stick in the lineup with power potential. I would cycle the designated hitter position between Tulo, Travis, Donaldson, and Solarte, giving them all regular rest while also making sure none of them takes a bench role.
1- Devon Travis (2B)
2- Josh Donaldson (DH)
3- Teoscar Hernandez (RF)
4- Justin Smoak (1B)
5- Yangervis Solarte (3B)
6- Troy Tulowitzki (SS)
7- Kevin Pillar (CF)
8- Russell Martin (C)
9- Randal Grichuk (LF)
In this scenario I’d move Travis to the top of the lineup against lefties, and I’d stack Donaldson and Tesocar Hernandez in the 2-3 spots. Smoak hits lefties pretty well too, so I’d shuffle Solarte to the fifth spot, as he’s a better left-handed hitter the majority of the time.
At this stage in the season you could easily flip-flop Pillar and Tulowitzki if “Superman” can keep up the production at the plate, but I expect him to come down to the earth at some point, pun intended. I would use Grichuk and his decent speed at the bottom of the lineup, and in a platoon in left field with Curtis Granderson.
2- Luke Maile
4- Lourdes Gurriel/Steve Pearce/or maybe even Vladimir Guerrero Jr., although that’s a whole other debate.
You may have noticed that I’ve left out one name completely and only briefly mentioned another. As I mentioned above, there are a few players that the fan base, and seemingly the coaching staff have run out of patience with, and Kendrys Morales would be at the top of that list. Unless he suddenly figures things out at the plate and starts contributing soon, his roster spot is going to be in jeopardy, especially with the crunch to the 25 man the Blue Jays will inevitably face at some point. Yes, he’s got one more year left on his contract after 2018, but with the need for the DH position flexibility with the rest of the roster, and Morales’ epic struggles, I can’t see this lasting beyond when players start getting healthy.
The other name is Steve Pearce, who has struggled to stay healthy throughout his tenure in Toronto. He’s been a pretty solid contributor when he’s been healthy, and he’s actually a great fit as a platoon player with Curtis Granderson in left field, but the roster is going to push someone out eventually, and I have a feeling it’ll be the 35 year old. Not that they don’t have a use for him, but the emergence of Teoscar Hernandez demanding a full time playing spot, Randal Grichuk could be Granderson’s platoon partner. He’s struggled in 2018, but he’s a much better defender, a better base runner, and can even play centre field in a pinch, so he makes more sense as a 4th outfielder on this roster if you ask me, especially with additional contract options.
Pearce is the type of player that could net a small, but valuable return in the right situation, and could be the type of expiring contract that the Blue Jays look to move whether they’re contending or not. Of course all of this will depend on his health, and the health of the rest of the outfield depth chart, and he could always serve as an occasional DH or back-up first baseman too if he sticks around.
Of course the third big “omission” in this case would be Vladimir Guerrero Jr, who many folks expect we’ll see at some point in 2018. Let me be clear that I would not be the least bit surprised if he’s promoted by August, but I’m also secretly hoping that he can spend the entire season in the minor leagues. It’s not that I don’t think he can outperform many of the hitters on the roster this year, I just think it’s tough to fit him on this roster unless injuries necessitate his call-up. He could serve as the DH, but I’d rather see that role be split between the infielders, thus allowing an easy way to keep all of Solarte/Tulowitzki/Travis in the lineup on the regular.
It’s possible Guerrero continues to mash to the point that there’s no denying him, and if Morales was out of the way on the roster it would be easier to make that happen, but I still think it’ll take an injury situation later in the year in order to make that happen, which admittedly is more than possible.
This entire scenario hinges on the health of guys like Tulowitzki, Travis, and the rest of the offence, but that’s the point of thinking about this exercise. Most of the time it’s futile to even bother with, as injuries could change things, or the performance of others like Gurriel, or even a trade or two to juggle the depth charts.
Next: Why does Russell Martin get off the hook?
We’ll see what happens by the time summer rolls around, but something tells me we’ll see a slightly different Blue Jays’ roster by then. We’ve been watching a quiet evolution already in 2018, and I expect those subtle tweaks to continue.