Blue Jays: Analyzing different roster configurations for the 2021 season
The Toronto Blue Jays enter the 2021 season with a few more additions to their roster in both their lineup and in their pitching corps.
George Springer will be a prominent feature in the Blue Jays outfield for the next six years and the addition of Marcus Semien on a one-year deal has the former All-Star entrenched at second base for the year. A few additions to the rotation/bullpen in Steven Matz, Tyler Chatwood, and Kirby Yates alongside the re-signing of Robbie Ray this off-season put the Blue Jays in a position to reach October baseball once again, centred around the young core that the organization has developed over the past few seasons.
With the recent additions, the Blue Jays have a few different configurations they could enter the season with when it comes to developing the 26 man roster.
6 SP; 8 RP; 2 catchers; 6 INF; 4 OF
The Toronto Blue Jays have quite a few depth starters on their roster with the likes of Steven Matz, Robbie Ray, Tanner Roark, Trent Thornton, Anthony Kay, Thomas Hatch, and the list goes on and on. With so much depth behind ace Hyun-Jin Ryu, there is a possibility that the Blue Jays could utilize a six-man rotation instead of the traditional five-man format to carry them through the season like they did for the back end of the 2016 season.
By having an additional starter, the hope would be that the increased day of rest would allow the starters to go deeper into ball games and be less taxing on the Blue Jays bullpen. This idea bodes well considering Ryu has battled injuries in his past, pitching 160 or more innings in only two of his seven MLB seasons. Factor in that prospect Nate Pearson is dealing with a groin injury and would have been on an innings limit anyway, and a six-man rotation doesn’t seem too unfathomable of an idea given the Blue Jays have five to six pitchers who could slot into the back end of the rotation this season.
This format only works though if the Blue Jays starters can go deep into ball games, as a pitcher who gets hit around early in the game could create a domino effect that could tire out the bullpen if the relievers have to regularly come into the ball game earlier than expected.
5 SP; 9 RP; 2 C; 6 INF; 4 OF
Following the traditional five-man rotation format, this scenario sees the Blue Jays add a reliever to the bullpen and head into the 2021 season with nine relief pitchers. Looking at the current roster and following MLB.com Keegan Matheson’s roster prediction, the following pitchers are pretty locked to join the Blue Jays bullpen: Kirby Yates, Ryan Borucki, Tyler Chatwood, Jordan Romano, Ross Stripling, David Phelps, and Rafael Dolis. I wouldn’t pencil in the non-roster invite (NRI) A.J. Cole or depth pitcher Thomas Hatch just yet, but arguments could be made for both to make the roster as well as the potential for Joel Payamps, Travis Bergen, and NRI Francisco Liriano, Tommy Milone, and Tim Mayza to sneak their way onto the roster as well (an argument for another day).
By having nine men in the bullpen, the Blue Jays would have one pitcher in the closer role and then have multiple players to act as long-arms, middle relief, and in the set-up/high-pressure roles. In doing so, this format would give the bullpen an additional reliever if the starting pitcher gets batted around and the Blue Jays need some assistance earlier than expected. Having the extra man in the bullpen also protects the team if a starting pitcher leaves a game early due to injury or poor performance without jeopardizing the series or forcing the team to call up a fresh pitcher from the minors. Factor in that pitchers last season did not get a regular campaign to pitch and get stretched out as normal, a nine-man bullpen seems like a plausible option to save arms for the full season.
Carrying an Additional Position Player
5 SP; 8 RP; 2 C; 7 INF; 4 OF or 5 SP; 8 RP; 2 C; 6 INF; 5 OF
As the spring training progresses, the roster will start to take form in regards to who will make up the Blue Jays bench this season. Obvious locks on the team include Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Rowdy Tellez, and Semien for the infield with Springer, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Randal Grichuk, and Teoscar Hernandez rounding out the outfield. Danny Jansen will make the team as the Blue Jays primary catcher, but the backup position is highly contested by the Blue Jays fan base as to whether Alejandro Kirk and Reese McGuire will win the role.
For the infield, there is a battle brewing between the likes of Joe Panik, Richard Urena, Breyvic Valera, and Santiago Espinal for a spot on the Blue Jays bench. Considering the Blue Jays already have five infielders dedicated to the team, only one of these players would make the roster if they were to move forward with six infielders. For the outfield, the two combatants for a roster spot are Josh Palacios and Jonathan Davis, with either player only making the active roster if the Blue Jays decide to carry a fifth outfielder or if somebody gets traded (again, another debate for another day).
If the Blue Jays were to carry an extra bench player, they would have to move forward with only eight pitchers in the bullpen, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Blue Jays bullpen should be a good mix of young and veteran talent, and if the starting rotation can pitch 5-6 innings a game, an eight-man bullpen should be sufficient to get them through a majority of the season. Having an extra bench player, whether it be an infielder or outfielder, would allow the Blue Jays to be able to replace players late in the game or substitute players out for rest days as need be, as well as righty/lefty matchups to go against opponents bullpen substitutions late in the game (as they must pitch to a minimum three batters or to the end of an inning).
I personally think the Blue Jays would carry another infielder considering Biggio can spot start in the outfield if necessary, with Guerrero Jr. moving to third and Tellez at first. However, Palacios has been performing well this spring, so it will be interesting to see if he can continue to bat and perform well.
Alternatively, the Blue Jays could choose to carry a third catcher and keep both Kirk and McGuire on the roster, but this scenario seems the least likely given the limited coverage as neither really plays another position other than designated hitter, which the Blue Jays have other options in Tellez, Hernandez, and Grichuk.
To be completely honest, I highly doubt the Blue Jays are going to enter the season with one format in mind and keep that scenario throughout the entire season. Players are going to get injured, some are going to struggle, and some minor league players might be performing well, so the game plan is obviously going to change accordingly when those situations arise.
Personally, I think the Blue Jays will begin the season with a nine-man bullpen to provide an additional pitcher so that the rotation doesn’t have to be taxed early in the year given Pearson may not be 100% to start the season (if he is even in the rotation) and Ryu could need a day or two of rest throughout the campaign.
Overall, there are a few competitions and a few battles that will be figured out this spring and there are some bubble roster players who could make the decision a lot more difficult for the Blue Jays management team if they perform well this spring.