The Blue Jays added Joe Panik on a MiLB deal on Saturday, and if the former All-Star can recapture his form, it opens up a few new options.
On Saturday the Blue Jays made a potentially under-the-radar signing by agreeing to a MiLB pact with Joe Panik. He’s coming off of an uninspiring 2019, but on a minor league contract, the Blue Jays could have found some sneaky value here.
The reason I say that is because Panik isn’t that far removed from being a productive part of the San Francisco Giants’ competitive teams of the last decade, and he’s still just 29 years old. On his resume he has a Gold Glove (2016), an All-Star appearance (2015), a World Series ring from his rookie campaign in 2014.
As good as that all sounds, there’s a reason that Panik is signing a minor league contract. He’s coming off a 2019 season that was split between the Giants and the Mets, hitting .244/.315/.336 across 142 games and 491 plate appearances. Statistically it was his worst season in the big leagues, however, there were encouraging signs after he arrived in New York, as he slashed .277/.333/.404 over 103 plate appearances.
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With a projected infield that should include Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Travis Shaw, there may not be a lot of opportunity for Panik to win playing time. However, there’s always the option to utilize some of that positional flexibility the Blue Jays are known to love so much, which could allow for Charlie Montoyo to find at-bats for Panik, provided he’s earning them.
Panik could be viewed as a potential utility-man option, however, his resume is pretty limited at the big league level. In fact, he’s only played one game away from his home at second base, making one start at first base in 2018. The assumption is that the Blue Jays will want him to be competent playing second, first, and likely third base, but again, they could also choose to move others around.
We’ve already heard reports this off-season that the Blue Jays could experiment a little more with Cavan Biggio in the outfield, even as a potential solution in centre. I see that as a bit of a long-shot, but putting him in right field and shifting Randal Grichuk to centre is certainly an option, even on a part-time basis. Shaw also has the ability to play second and third base, as can a projected bench piece like Brandon Drury.
Then again, since Panik agreed to a MiLB contract, it’s entirely possible the Blue Jays could view him as depth for Triple-A, and insurance for their young infielders. They made a similar move by signing Ruben Tejada on Friday, who could have a leg up for the utility job because of his experience as a shortstop. The fact that both veterans signed MiLB deals also means they could be keystone mates in Buffalo until injury or underperformance strikes.
I don’t know that anyone should get too excited about the Blue Jays signing Panik, or expect him to be a major difference maker on the MLB roster. That said, a fresh start in New York last year did him a lot of good, and joining the American League this year could be beneficial in the same way. At 29-years-old and just two years removed from hitting .288/.347/.421 with Gold Glove calibre defence, don’t be shocked if Panik turns into this year’s version of Eric Sogard. A likeable veteran with solid bat control, and a boatload of experience to offer his young teammates. There’s a lot to like for next to no risk with his contract.