Blue Jays: Avoiding another Gio Urshela situation with roster decisions

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 17: Gio Urshela #29 of the New York Yankees looks on during batting practice prior to game four of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium on October 17, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 17: Gio Urshela #29 of the New York Yankees looks on during batting practice prior to game four of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium on October 17, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /
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The Blue Jays have some tough decisions to make this off-season, and they’ll want to avoid trading or cutting another potential star like they did last year.

I would imagine that one of the hardest parts about being in a big league front office is knowing when to give up and move on from a player, especially a talented one who has yet to live up to their potential. Ross Atkins and the rest of the Blue Jays’ front office could be faced with that very situation this off-season, and unfortunately it’s one they’re familiar with.

Not every player hits the big leagues with the instant success that we saw from Bo Bichette last year, as the adjustment time for inexperienced players varies quite a bit. For some, things can click right away, and for others it might happen a few years into their career. The Blue Jays have enjoyed the success of a few late bloomers over the last decade, including former sluggers like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

They also gave up on one a little too quickly a little over a year ago when Gio Urshela was allowed to get away, not realizing what he was about to become a season later. The Blue Jays traded him to the Yankees for cash considerations on August 4, 2018, and it turned out to be a terrible mistake.

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Maybe it was the change of scenery, but Urshela became an All-Star level performer for the Yankees, stepping into the starting third baseman’s job after Miguel Andujar was ruled out for the year, and producing so well the Bronx Bombers never had to replace him. He ended up slashing .314/.355/.534 with 21 home runs, 34 doubles and 74 RBI in 442 at-bats, and was one of the reasons that an injury-ravaged Yankee roster managed to stay on top of the AL East.

If only the Blue Jays (or any of us, really) had seen it coming.

A year before, Urshela had some limited opportunities in Toronto and hit for a line of .233/.283/.336 in 19 games and 43 at-bats. He was there for infield depth, and his performance in Triple-A wasn’t enough to push for a roster spot in Toronto, or to ever dream that he’d transform that quickly into a big contributor. It’s a lesson in patience for the Blue Jays, even if it’s understandable why they moved on with the young talent they had to make room for in their infield.

Still, looking at what happened with Urshela has to make the Atkins and company have a little pause when they’re making roster decisions over the coming weeks and months. For example, they have a trio of high-ceiling outfielders that could be on the bubble, but right now you wouldn’t really blame the club for moving on if an upgrade presented itself.

Both Derek Fisher and Anthony Alford will be out of minor league options when next season rolls around, and they’ll need to find a place for Teoscar Hernandez if he’s not traded before spring training. They could all share some time in the outfield with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk, and perhaps get at-bats in the DH spot as well, but more likely the Blue Jays are going to have to move on from one or more of the outfielders making up the current glut.

To be fair, I’m not exactly prepared to put my money down on any of Alford, Fisher, or Hernandez becoming All-Stars, but there’s no doubt that each of them possesses talent. Hernandez has shown himself to be a fairly significant power threat at the highest level, but he’ll need to either find a way to improve his defence even more, or perhaps settle in as the majority DH. That said, because he’s the most established of the three players we’re talking about here, I also think he could be included in a trade package this off-season.

As for Fisher and Alford, neither of them have done enough to warrant the Blue Jays reserving a spot on the 25-man (now 26-man) roster, let alone a starting spot in their complicated outfield. Ideally they would be able to use Gurriel Jr. and Grichuk in the corners and find an upgrade in centre, and it’s hard to imagine they’ll want to count on Fisher and Alford to fill that role. They could continue to slide Grichuk back and forth between right and centre, but even then Fisher’s not an ideal right field candidate with his weak throwing arm. Alford has had a hard time staying healthy over the years, and would be tough to count on to stay on the field, let alone produce.

It’s a situation that could see the Blue Jays making a few trades, or in a worst-case scenario, maybe a non-tender for one or both of them. They currently have space on their 40-man roster, so a decision like that is far from imminent, but it’s a possibility, and there’s no doubt there will be more players added to fold before spring training. Players like Alford or Fisher could end up having to be moved in order to make space for someone else.

The fear is that they’ll unlock that long-awaited potential in another market, especially when the Blue Jays could be forced to get pennies on the dollar or even nothing in return. That doesn’t mean you overvalue your own all the time, but there’s a reason that coaches and front office executives have more patience than the average fan.

Next. Another minor leaguer busted for PED use. dark

Sometimes it takes a little longer before stardom kicks in for a big leaguer, and right now I’m sure that Ross Atkins, Mark Shapiro, and rest of the brain trust are asking themselves that very question. Of the players that may not be part of the long-term picture, is there another Urshela, Bautista, or Chris Carpenter in the mix? Only time will tell, but those smaller decisions can make a significant franchise on a rebuild, and on the length of a GM’s contract.

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