Blue Jays: Predicting next year’s Opening Day infield

TORONTO, ON - JULY 22: Aledmys Diaz #1 of the Toronto Blue Jays collides with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 as Gurriel Jr. makes a fielding error while a run scores on the play in the eighth inning during MLB game action against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre on July 22, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JULY 22: Aledmys Diaz #1 of the Toronto Blue Jays collides with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 as Gurriel Jr. makes a fielding error while a run scores on the play in the eighth inning during MLB game action against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre on July 22, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

The Blue Jays have already started to see some significant turnover with their roster, and that will likely continue into next season. While there are several different ways this could go, here is my prediction of what we’ll see from next year’s Opening Day infield.

There are a lot of variables at play with the infield for the Blue Jays next season, and likely none bigger than what will happen with Josh Donaldson. The “Bringer of Rain” is not going to get the massive free agent contract we all thought he would a few years ago, and might even have to “settle” for the qualifying offer from the Blue Jays, depending on how he finishes out this season, and how he and his agent evaluate the market.

If he returns and he’s healthy, Donaldson is your starting third baseman to begin the year. With the presence of other long-term options, it’s also entirely possible that he sees some time at DH and 1st base as the season wears on, but for the purposes of this article we’re talking about the Opening Day roster. Which is also why I’m not including Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on this list, simply because I think the Blue Jays will promote him in much the same way the Braves did with Ronald Acuna this year, and delay his promotion just enough to gain an extra year of service time.

All that said, I don’t think either Donaldson or Guerrero line up at third to start the season, and instead I’m going to go with the unorthodox choice of Russell Martin.

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The Canadian receiver is likely going to take a bit of a backseat to Danny Jansen in the last season of his contract, but I don’t anticipate he’ll ride the pine a lot. Expect to see him get plenty of time at third base (before Vlad’s called up), at DH, and maybe even some starts at 2nd base or left field. He’ll also do some catching of course, but I’m guessing he’ll be the third baseman for the 2019 season’s first game, and that’s where he’ll spend a lot of his time.

I’ve already mentioned Jansen, so I’ll go to him next. He’s been very impressive in limited action with the Blue Jays so far, and looks like he’s ready to handle the challenge of taking on the starting catching duties. Having someone like Martin around will be huge for his development as well, and I expect management to take advantage of that mentorship opportunity while the veteran is still under contract. If Jansen can catch roughly 100 games and Martin gets the other 60 or so, I can’t think of a better way for the youngster to get eased into the big leagues.

After that, I fully expect that we’ll see a bit of a logjam at the keystone positions, but I don’t think Lourdes Gurriel Jr’s playing time to suffer much, if at all. The 24 year old Cuban looks like he’s the real deal, and I fully anticipate that he’ll see the majority of starts at shortstop next season. His ability to play second base and even in the outfield could also be utilized for the sake of keeping others in the lineup too, but I believe over time he’ll eventually settle in as the infield captain.

A very strong second half has likely put Devon Travis back in the lead for the second baseman’s job, and his contract control definitely helps as well. The best part about this season for Travis is that he’s been healthy, and hopefully he can continue to realize his potential, while also avoiding the disabled list. He earned just 1.45 million this season and has two years of arbitration control left, so he’s affordable and worth keeping around for the immediate future, and maybe longer.

I do think Travis will give up some playing time to others like Brandon Drury, Aledmyz Diaz, and who knows, maybe even Martin. Diaz can also play shortstop and third, and I expect we’ll see him in an infield utility role next season. I expect a similar job description for Drury, although with him it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets plenty of starts in the outfield as well. And if Troy Tulowitzki can ever get healthy, he’s going to get some starts too, although I don’t know that you can count on that.

In regards to the keystone, I honestly don’t see how Yangervis Solarte is going to fit with the roster, unless the Blue Jays trade one of the above mentioned names. The thing that makes Diaz more appealing to keep is his ability to play short, and with Drury it’s his experience in the outfield. For Solarte, he’s mostly a 2nd or 3rd baseman, and the Blue Jays have more than enough options at both positions, and ones that make more sense for the long term. We obviously have watched that depth tested several times this year, but with the other near MLB ready options in the minor leagues, something is gonna have to give, and I’m guessing it’s Solarte.

That leaves just two spots, and at first base I think it’s highly likely that we’ll see Justin Smoak return in 2019. The Blue Jays hold an option for six million dollars, which is an absolute no-brainer. I would have put Smoak in the “possible trade candidate” pile before this month, but after he cleared trade waivers in August I think it’s more likely he sticks around for another year. That could obviously change this winter, but the Blue Jays could use a few veterans to carry the youngsters, and Smoak is a nice, affordable option.

Last but not least is the designated hitter, which I suppose isn’t technically part of the infield. However, I’ve decided to include it here because I think the Blue Jays will use it a lot differently next season. For as good as he’s been since his dreadful start to the 2018 campaign, I think the Blue Jays should, and will move on from Kendrys Morales this offseason. Whether that comes in the form of a trade over the next week, a deal during the offseason, or if it comes to designating him for assignment, I don’t expect him back. The Jays likely wouldn’t DFA him after the way he’s played in the second half, but it would make things a lot easier for the roster going forward if they find a way to move on.

It’s not that he couldn’t be a good veteran leader for the young players, and the Blue Jays may choose to keep him around for that reason. However, if they’re looking to get regular at bats for all of the players they want to evaluate for their long term plans, it would be a lot easier to do that without Morales on the roster. Also, if Tulowitzki does come back healthy next year, he would be a nice candidate to get regular time at DH, while occasionally spelling Gurriel at shortstop enough to keep him happy, and hopefully healthy. It would also be a nice spot to use to keep guys like Guerrero Jr, Martin, and others in the lineup all the time.

Of course, all of this changes once Vladimir Guerrero Jr. gets called up, which will happen at some point very early in the season, unless they break camp with their budding star. There are also injuries and many other variables to consider, and with a team like the Blue Jays a lot could change in a hurry. If I’m working on this same article concept a year from now, there will be a lot more changes then too.

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That’s part of what will make the Blue Jays exciting and worth watching over the next year or two, and also why I might be laughing at this article when I look back next April.