With the Toronto Blue Jays being allowed to carry 26 players on the active roster, there are a few different ways that the organization could strategize their lineup over the course of the 2021 season (a topic I covered earlier this year).
With that being said, the chances the Blue Jays enter the season with six infielders is quite high, moving forward with the idea that the team starts with five starters, nine relievers, two catchers, six infielders, and four outfielders. This is obviously not set in stone, as the team could choose to take one less relief pitcher and carry an extra infielder or outfielder, but I would bet good money that they carry the extra pitcher to at least start the season (and change course throughout the year).
With this ideology in place, that leaves one question: who will the Blue Jays carry as their extra infielder on the bench for Opening Day?
We can already assume that Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Marcus Semien, Cavan Biggio, and Rowdy Tellez are safe bets to make the Opening Day roster (some may argue about Tellez, but I think he makes the team). That leaves just one player on the bench, but a multitude of options of who could occupy the spot when the Blue Jays roll into New York on April 1st.
Let’s look at the options.
After spending last season with the Blue Jays, veteran infielder Joe Panik returns to the organization after signing a minor league contract this off-season. With the Blue Jays last year, Panik slashed .225/.340/.300 with one home run, seven RBI, and a .640 OPS in 41 games. Brought in as a bench option, Panik saw quite a bit of action across the diamond as a few different players went down with injuries during the shortened season.
With a Gold Glove, All-Star selection, and a World Series ring in the trophy case, Panik brings veteran leadership into the Blue Jays clubhouse as well as versatility to play second, third, and shortstop if need be. The New York native also provides a left-handed bat off the bench when needed, and postseason experience from his time when he was with the San Francisco Giants.
Heading into the 2021 season, Panik is currently a non-roster invite to the Blue Jays spring training camp and would need to be added to the 40 man roster in order to make the team for Opening Day. So far this spring Panik has played in 11 games and sports a .304/.360/.304 slash line with four RBI, two walks, and one strikeout.
Acquired from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Steve Pearce back in 2018, Santiago Espinal made his major league debut for the Blue Jays last season, appearing in 26 games over the campaign. During his rookie year, the Dominican native would slash .267/.308/.333 with zero home runs and six RBI, finishing the season with a .641 OPS while being used as both a bench player and a starter throughout the year.
Espinal would be demoted to the alternate training site on two different occasions during the season but would find himself on the Wild Card playoff roster, although he would not appear in any games. The former Red Sox prospect primarily spends his time shortstop, but can occupy third base if need be as well as on the mound if the Blue Jays get very desperate. The right-hander pitched in two games last season when the team was getting blown away, finishing with a 9.00 ERA while giving up three hits, one home run, and one hit batter with no strikeouts.
As of right now, Espinal is on the 40-man roster and has appeared in 12 games so far this Spring Training with a .350/.435/.600 line with two doubles, one home run, and two RBI in 20 at-bats.
Another experienced infielder on the Blue Jays roster this Spring, Breyvic Valera joined the organization back in late 2019 via waivers from the New York Yankees. He would play five games for the Jays, slashing .267/.267/.533 with one home run and three RBI. Over three years in the big leagues, Valera has played for five different organizations.
Last season, the Blue Jays would place Valera on the restricted list and he would not play a single game all year. Hailing from Montalban, Venezuela, the switch-hitter had difficulty leaving Venezuela and was unable to report to the Blue Jays all season.
So far this Spring, Valera is sporting a .130/.167/.130 in 15 games with three hits and two RBI in 15 games. Similar to Espinal, Valera is also on the 40 man roster.