Blue Jays: Brandon Drury has some competition for a roster spot

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25: Brandon Drury #3 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws to first base and turns a double play, Dwight Smith Jr. #35 of the Baltimore Orioles is out at second base in the second inning during a MLB game at Rogers Centre on September 25, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25: Brandon Drury #3 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws to first base and turns a double play, Dwight Smith Jr. #35 of the Baltimore Orioles is out at second base in the second inning during a MLB game at Rogers Centre on September 25, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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With the Blue Jays adding middle infielders like Ruben Tejada and Joe Panik over the weekend, Brandon Drury now has some real competition for his job.

The Blue Jays have wisely added some depth to their middle infield picture, making a pair of moves over the weekend to address the need. First they added Ruben Tejada on a minor league contract on Friday, and then they did the same with former NL All-Star, Joe Panik on Saturday.

Neither of those two are guaranteed anything in Toronto, as evidenced by their MiLB deals. However, there’s a very real chance that their additions could have an impact on the Blue Jays’ current 40-man roster, and who they could break camp with in March. And the player whose status may have changed the most over the weekend is Brandon Drury.

Drury’s spot on the team next year has always been a little questionable in my eyes, mostly because of the composition of the rest of the roster. He’s a versatile defender who can play third, second, and first base, as well as an outfield corner in a pinch, and he offers a right-handed bat from the bench. However, that might not be enough to save his place on the roster for the 2020 season, for a few reasons.

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The Blue Jays are projected to start Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B), Bo Bichette (SS), Cavan Biggio (2B), and Travis Shaw (1B) around their infield, and short of a major roster addition, that’s likely not going to change. That said, Biggio and Shaw offer plenty of versatility of their own, each having played third, second, and first base last season as well, with Biggio even getting a look in the outfield, so Charlie Montoyo does have some options if he needs, or wants to use them.

As for Drury, it’s assumed that he’ll be part of what should be a four-man bench, especially with the addition of the 26th roster spot that will give teams the regular use of an eight-man bullpen. On every MLB bench you’ll need a back-up catcher (Reese McGuire), an outfielder (Derek Fisher?), an infielder (??), and an extra player, ideally one who can move around. Drury could fill that last bench role, but he’s going to face an uphill battle to get it.

There are several complicating factors at play. The Blue Jays will have to figure out what to do with their glut of outfielders, and that could include carrying two of them to at least start the 2020 season. Both Derek Fisher and Anthony Alford are out of minor league options, and will need to make the team unless the Blue Jays want to expose them to waivers. If they both make the Opening Day roster and the Blue Jays start Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, and Randal Grichuk, there’s not much need for Drury’s ability in the outfield, especially with Biggio around as well. He’d also be down to shooting for that “infielder” job on the bench if the Jays carrying both Fisher and Alford.

In an ideal situation, the Blue Jays would also have someone who is capable of playing shortstop on a regular basis. Drury can handle the job in a pinch, but he’s really not that guy, which is why someone like Tejada was important to add. That said, I made the argument the other day that Tejada could just hang out in Triple-A until he’s needed since Bo Bichette is young and should play the vast majority of the time, and Drury could likely handle the job a couple of times a month. The Blue Jays could also elect to give Santiago Espinal a serious look in the role if he has a strong showing in Spring Training.

And if it’s not Espinal pushing for the job, then it realistically could be one or both of Tejada or Panik. The former is a capable shortstop who can also shift around the infield with ease, and the latter is a former All-Star, and is just two seasons removed from an OBP of .347. I wouldn’t be surprised if either beat out Drury for that last bench spot, even if the Blue Jays gave him 2.05 million in order to avoid arbitration.

As I evaluate the situation, Drury has three things going for him in order to win a bench role. He can play shortstop, albeit not as an ideal solution, which gives him a leg up on Panik, but not so much on Tejada or Espinal. He bats right-handed, which could be helpful off the bench against days against left-handed starters, but he also slashed an uninspiring .231/.257/.364 against southpaws last season, so it’s not as if he’s a lefty-killer. That said, the third thing going for him is that the Blue Jays don’t really have a right-handed hitting option to use with Shaw at first base, who struggles against same-siders.

Next. Time to flex a little financial muscle. dark

If all he really has going for him (beyond “potential”) is that he can sorta play shortstop, and he’s a right-handed hitting option at first base against lefties, then with all due respect, surely the Blue Jays can use the roster spot more wisely. Whether that means it goes to a proper shortstop option on the bench, to keeping Alford under contract control, or to a player who hasn’t even signed yet, it’s getting harder to find the reasons to keep Drury around for next season. Unless he performs well during the Grapefruit League schedule, don’t be surprised if the Blue Jays go in another direction with the versatile roster that Ross Atkins has built.

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