Blue Jays 2019 Roster – A Second Scenario

MIAMI, FL - JULY 09: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays and the World Team slides past Zack Collins #8 of the Chicago White Sox and the U.S. Team to score in the seventh inning on a single by Tomas Nido #7 of the New York Mets and the World Team during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Marlins Park on July 9, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 09: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays and the World Team slides past Zack Collins #8 of the Chicago White Sox and the U.S. Team to score in the seventh inning on a single by Tomas Nido #7 of the New York Mets and the World Team during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Marlins Park on July 9, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Now that they’ve traded away several veterans and the youth movement appears to be underway, what might the 2019 Blue Jays roster look like?

Back in June, I posted an article giving one potential scenario for what the 2019 Blue Jays roster might look like.  Things have changed since then, so I thought that an update might be in order.

As before, this is only one scenario, and a lot can still happen between now and April.  But it is interesting to see the depth of options that the Jays may have to choose from next season

Catcher – Danny Jansen and Russ Martin

Dan-Jan continues to play well in September, and demonstrates that he is ready for a MLB starting gig.  2019 is a dream year for him – he gets ~100 starts at catcher, and has one of the finest and most cerebral catchers in the game to tutor him in Russel Martin.  The Jays send Luke Maile down to Buffalo to be an injury backup.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

First base – Justin Smoak

Smoak’s $8 million option (escalated from $6 million) is a no-brainer after he finishes 2018 with a strong 125 wRC+ and near-league-average defensive metrics at first base.  Rowdy Tellez struggles and is not strong competition, and Chad Spanberger plays well at high-A, but is still at least a year away.

Shortstop – Troy Tulowitzki

Yes, I know – you did not expect this one!  But Tulo, now completely healthy, is strongly motivated by all the talk about how he is done and comes out strong at 2019 spring training.  He is fielding at his 2016 level of +10 DRS, and hitting at a 100-ish wRC+.  Bo Bichette and Lourdes Gurriel both make a strong case for the starting job, but the Jays give the position to Tulo (in part hoping that they might be able to move him at the trade deadline).

Second base – Bo Bichette

Devon Travis continues to struggle at second in 2018, both offensively and defensively.  So the battle for the second base gig in 2019 spring training is largely between Lourdes Gurriel and a hungry Bo Bichette (Diaz is in the discussion, but not a serious candidate.  Brandon Drury and Yangervis Solarte were traded in the offseason).  The Jays decide that Gurriel is too valuable as a Zobrist-style utilityman, and give the job to Bichette (around April 20th).

Third base – Vlad Guerrero Jr.

Vladdy continues to impress in the Arizona Fall League, and it is blindingly apparent that he is major-league ready.  So he is called up with Bo around April 20, and given the starting third-base job.  Somewhat surprisingly, the Jays do have some discussions with Josh Donaldson in the offseason, but there are too many impediments.  Donaldson ends up signing elsewhere – for a package remarkably similar to what the Jays offered in the 2017-18 offseason.

Left field – Billy McKinney

Teoscar Hernandez continues to struggle defensively, to the point where the Jays feel that a year in Buffalo working full-time on his fielding is best for him and for the team.  Meanwhile, a hungry McKinney continues to bust his buns to demonstrate that he belongs in the majors.  While he does not maintain his 215 wRC+ or +15 UZR/150, his hustle endears him to new manager Stubby Clapp and he starts the season in left.

Centre field – Kevin Pillar

The Jays try to trade Pillar in the offseason, but his 85 wRC+ proves too much of an obstacle, so they keep him in centre field for 2019.  The Jays also give Randal Grichuk a fair bit of playing time in centre, both to keep him ready as a potential injury replacement, and as a possible long-term solution.

Right field – Randal Grichuk

Grichuk continues to play an above-average defensive right field, and continues his second half resurgence (a 140 wRC+, compared to 86 in the first half) through September.  Dwight Smith Jr. and Anthony Alford are invited to spring training and play well, but the 2019 starting job is Randall’s to lose … and he does not lose it.

Starting rotation – Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Ryan Borucki, Sean Reid-Foley

The Jays “listen” on Sanchez and Stroman in the 2018-19 offseason, but their poor 2018 performance (and injury issues) result in underwhelming offers.  So, both start the season in the Jays’ rotation.

Toronto re-signs Happ who (remarkably!) actually *does* enjoy playing in Toronto.  Failing that, the Jays could gamble on Hyun-Jin Ryu’s health, or that Lance Lynn’s resurgence with the Yankees is not an illusion.  In any event, I project the Jays to fill the #3 spot with a veteran starter, either through free agency or trade.

Borucki continues to progress in September, finishing the season with an ERA just over 4.00.  He is playing at a solid #3 starter level, so giving him the #4 gig is a no-brainer.

Sean Reid-Foley continues to be spotty in September, mixing outstanding starts with <ahem> “less than outstanding” ones.  The Jays conclude that he has nothing left to prove or to learn in Buffalo, so they start the season with him as the #5 starter.  Sam Gaviglio and Thomas Pannone compete with SRF for the #5 gig, but the Jays decide that Sammy G has more value in the bullpen, and that Pannone would benefit from more learning time in Buffalo.

The PTBNL in the Donaldson deal turns out to be Julian Merryweather.  He recovers from his March 2018 Tommy John, and is ready to pitch for Buffalo in May.  By July, he has a half-dozen starts under his belt at the 3.89 xFIP he put up in 2017, and is clearly ready for a MLB audition.  He becomes the jays’ #8 starter (behind Gaviglio and Pannone)

Bullpen – Ken Giles, Ryan Tepera, Cody Allen, Tony Barnette, Sam Gaviglio, Joe Biagini, Danny Barnes

The Jays try to trade Giles in the offseason, but the offers are not there.  They accordingly hold on to him and keep him in the closer role, hoping that a strong start will translate into value at the trade deadline.

Tepera continues to pitch well, and is still relatively cheap (even though 2019 is his first trip through arbitration).  Keeping him is largely a given.

The Jays sign two free agent relievers in the offseason.  The first is a player with a good historical track record but a poor 2018, who the Jays are able to acquire on a one-year contract to regain value.  I show Cody Allen, but other options are possible.

The second free-agent signing is an older reliever who is looking to demonstrate that he still has something left in the tank.  Think Joe Smith, or Jason Grilli, or Joachim Benoit.  I show this player as Tony Barnette, but again, other options fit this mould.  The Jays would look to be opportunistic, and sign someone late in the offseason who could turn into a trade chip at the 2019 deadline (like Seung Hwan Oh in 2017-18)

Gaviglio is the swingman and long relief.  Biagini is now in a full-time relief role, and Danny Barnes is breathing.  Though it is possible that a Justin Shafer (or Justin Dillon, or Jake Petricka – or even a Travis Bergen!) could be so lights-out in spring training that they start the season in the bigs … or that the Jays conclude that the best way to ease a Pannone or Zeuch into the majors is through a stint in the bullpen, Chris Sale – style.

Bench – Danny Jansen, Aledmys Diaz, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Dwight Smith Jr.

Danny J is the backup/starting catcher.  In Guerriel Jr., the Jays have a potential super-utility player (what I call a “Zobrist”), and Diaz is pretty d*rn good as a bench infielder.  The Jays choose to move Teoscar Hernandez to Buffalo, where he can play every day, and Alford is still not ready, so Dwight Smith Jr. (and his 122 wRC+ for the Jays in 2018  (156 against right handed pitching), while admittedly in a small sample) becomes the bench outfielder.

Out the door

This assumes that the Jays trade or release  Devon Travis, Yangervis Solarte, and Brandon Drury in the offseason, as well as a few relievers.

Knocking on the door

In this scenario, Cavan Biggio is still in the minors (though likely in Buffalo).  If he is not major league ready, he is very close.  Similarly, Thomas Pannone, T. J. Zeuch and Julian Merryweather are near-ready, and Travis Bergen’s 10.89 K/9 and 0.50 ERA in New Hampshire are both attention-getters.

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The bottom line

The above lineup, while only one scenario, might not be as bad as people expect – particularly if Stroman and Sanchez can return to something close to their past form.  2019 will be a rebuilding year, granted, but it could also be an exciting one.