While the next six weeks will be a great opportunity to challenge the Blue Jays’ youth, it’s also a chance to showcase tradable veterans before the offseason.
When a team falls out of the playoff race for two consecutive years, it’s probably time to hit the re-set button, and that’s exactly what the Blue Jays are doing these days. We’re seeing younger faces like Ryan Borucki, Danny Jansen, Sean Reid-Foley, and many more in the big leagues, and we’re starting to get a real glimpse of what the next generation is going to look like.
It’s been a frustrating season for Blue Jays fans, but it’s also an exciting time to be a fan of the team, even if it’ll require a fair amount of patience. It’s been awhile since the organization has had a talent pool this strong in their minor league pipeline, as they were ranked #3 by Baseball America recently, with a group that includes two of the top-5 individual players including Bo Bichette at #5, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at the top of the list.
There’s a solid argument for getting as many young players up to the highest level as you can, and regularly putting them in the lineup to gain valuable experience. For example, the Blue Jays decided to get creative by moving Russell Martin to third base more recently, which opens playing time for Danny Jansen behind the plate.
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As much as I’m not a huge fan of Martin being a utility player, I do like this move for a couple of reasons. First, it allows us to get an extended look at Danny Jansen, and gives the talented backstop some valuable experience to take into the 2019 season, assuming he’s back with the big league club. It also keeps Martin in the lineup, which is easy to do with the other injuries on the roster right now, but it also helps the Blue Jays for a number of reasons. They get to show Martin the respect of keeping him in the lineup, as more or less benching him with more than a year to go on his contract isn’t really an option.
Which is why when I look ahead to next season, I think the Blue Jays have a lot of work to do this winter in order to make some roster room, and the seeds for that work probably need to be planted right now. What I mean by that is, I don’t see how the Blue Jays can enter the 2019 campaign with all of the infielders they currently employ, and having the chance to showcase some of them before the offseason begins could go a long way to speeding up the rebuild.
If we take a peak at the infield depth chart for just second base, shortstop and third base, the log jam is pretty evident. The list includes Martin (as a third baseman), Yangervis Solarte, Brandon Drury, Aledmys Diaz, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Devon Travis, Troy Tulowitzki (if he’s healthy by next year), and possibly even Josh Donaldson, who could realistically return on a qualifying offer contract if he’s not traded before the end of the month. The log jam above doesn’t even include Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who will inevitably get promoted at some point, and others who could make the jump like Bo Bichette, or even Richard Urena.
We’re talking about double digit numbers on the depth chart here, and a situation that requires movement. For that reason, I think it’s important for the Blue Jays to try and get a lot of these veterans on the field down the stretch of this season, and to increase their trade value as much as possible. Unfortunately that’s not currently possible with Solarte and Drury, who are both on the disabled list, but both should return both the season is over.
Solarte and Drury could be prime trade candidates this offseason, depending on the interest of course. The same could be said for Diaz, and to a lesser extent for Devon Travis. Gurriel should, and likely will be a starter somewhere in 2019, and when Guerrero Jr. is finally in a Blue Jays uniform he’ll be a staple at third base to begin with. That only leaves one spot for the rest of the group, and even Tulowitzki could chew up some playing time if he’s healthy, which could realistically happen by then.
If I had to guess, and this is purely my speculation, I would expect that Solarte and Diaz will be at the top of Ross Atkins’ list to move, which is why I hope to see them both playing a lot down the stretch. Diaz has quietly put together a solid season, and might bring back a bit of a return in a trade. If Solarte can have a solid finish to the year when healthy, then perhaps Atkins can convince rival GMs to focus on the way he started and ended the season, rather than the majority in the middle. Drury could get a candidate to get flipped too, but his ability to cover the corner outfield as well likely makes more sense to keep around for next year.
John Gibbons is in a difficult position as the manager, even during a lost season. I have no doubt that he’s regularly discussing lineups and playing time with the front office at this stage, but he’s tasked with finding the balance between giving the young players an opportunity, and also making sure to respect the contracts and commitments to their veteran players, while also showcasing them for a possible future trade.
It’s a tougher task than a lot of people want to give him credit for, and so far I think he’s been doing a good job in this area. It’ll get more difficult as guys like Solarte, Drury, Gurriel, and even Donaldson return to the active roster, so Gibbons’ job is far from over this year. And while I’m a big fan of “letting the kids play”, in this case I hope the Blue Jays make sure to think of the future in another way as well.