The Blue Jays added Ruben Tejada on a MiLB contract on Friday to compete for the utility-man job. Who are the other candidates on the roster right now?
After being very active on the free agent market before Christmas, the Blue Jays hadn’t done anything in a while. And while it wasn’t a major signing, on Friday they made a move toward finishing off their off-season checklist by signing Ruben Tejada to a MiLB contract that includes an invite to Spring Training.
Tejada won’t be a featured player for the Blue Jay if he makes the team in March, but the Blue Jays were in need of someone like him for a few different reasons. The most significant being that they didn’t have an experienced back-up infielder who is a capable shortstop, and Tejada gives them some important depth at the position. The obvious plan is to start Bo Bichette in as many games as possible, but having a ‘Plan B’ in case of an injury was important.
That’s because the other options for the utility-man job aren’t really shortstops, outside of Santiago Espinal, who has yet to make his MLB debut, and played just 28 games in Triple-A after starting the year in Double-A in 2019. He had a very solid season across two levels last year, and should have an outside chance to win the job with a solid Grapefruit League showing, but it likely wouldn’t hurt for him to gain a little more experience at Triple-A, or for the Blue Jays to have other layer of depth ahead of him.
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Last season we saw Brandon Drury make three starts and five total appearances at shortstop, and he proved that he can cover the position in a pinch. That said, I don’t know that the Blue Jays want to rely on him to be a regular starter at the position should Bichette get injured for any length of time, which is why signing someone like Tejada was important. While Drury provides quite a bit of value with his defensively versatility, he’ll need to perform better at the plate in order to remain with the team for the long-term as well.
The other option for the Blue Jays would be Breyvic Valera, who played in five games for the Blue Jays during the latter stages of the 2019 season. Like Drury, Valera is capable of covering shortstop for a game here and there, but I don’t think he’s a realistic option to handle the position on an every day basis. I also believe that he’ll be the next to go when the Blue Jays need to make more space on their 40-man roster, and Tejada could even take his place on Opening Day if it doesn’t happen before.
All that said, signing Tejada may actually work in Drury and even Valera’s favour. Since he agreed to a MiLB deal, the Blue Jays won’t have to have him on their MLB roster at the beginning of the year. If they wanted to keep their options open, Tejada could hang out in Buffalo and be the shortstop in waiting in the event that Bichette hit the injured list. Let’s face it, the kid is probably going to start 140-150 games in 2020 as long as he’s healthy, and the Blue Jays are probably comfortable giving someone like Drury two starts a month at the position when he needs a day off.
That focus on flexibility continues to show up in Ross Atkins and the front office’s work, and while Tejada’s agreement may be a minor one (no pun intended), it will give the Blue Jays a few more options once the regular season rolls around.