Blue Jays Get an Upgrade at Third Base With the Return of Espinal

With only 8 games to go in the regular season and the Blue Jays currently very much in the Wild Card hunt, it seems as though third base has been a weak spot for the team.

The top five of the team’s lineup is very strong – among the best in baseball, even. And although the team’s back half of the batting lineup is above average, with the likes of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Randal Grichuk, and Corey Dickerson, third base has been a weak spot for the ballclub for almost a month now. With Santiago Espinal returning off the injured list last night, the Blue Jays seem to have received an upgrade at the hot corner at a very important time in the season.

Coming into the season, Cavan Biggio was expected to be the club’s everyday third basemen. That plan did not come to fruition for the Toronto Blue Jays. He has appeared in only 77 games this year, with only 290 plate appearances while battling various injuries. Although Biggio started the 2021 season as the Blue Jays starting third basemen, that didn’t last long.

With 8 games to go in the regular season, and the Blue Jays currently in the Wild Card hunt, the team has received a much-needed upgrade at third base.

The Blue Jays placed Biggio on the 10-day IL on May 22nd with a cervical spine ligament sprain, and he was activated less than a month later, on June 11th. Then, on August 3rd, Biggio was once again placed on the 10-day IL – this time with mid-back tightness. The Notre Dame product has remained on the injured list ever since and faced a setback in late August, as he suffered a sprain of his left UCL. He is currently on a rehab assignment with the Buffalo Bisons and it’s unlikely he returns before the end of the season.

With Biggio’s absence, Santiago Espinal was playing most games for the team at the hot corner. That is until he also got injured and the club placed Espinal on the 10-day injured list on August 29th with a right hip flexor strain. During his time at third base, Espinal was playing better than most fans likely expected. The 26-year-old was slashing .290/.354/.378 prior to his injury, while also offering above-average defense.

With Biggio and Espinal both on the injured list, the Blue Jays turned to Breyvic Valera. Valera has seen 95 plate appearances this year, where he’s hitting .259 with 15 RBI, although he is also showcasing a negative WAR at -0.1. Although Valera has good numbers against left-handed pitchers, the Venezualan product is pretty average at both the plate and on the defensive side. Despite this, he seemed to be the team’s best option while Espinal and Biggio were both sidelined.

Kevin Smith is another player who got some starts at third base while Espinal and Biggio were both hurt. Smith only saw 17 games in the major leagues this season and in those games, he hit only .094 with a .194 OBP and looked intimidated by big-league pitchers. Despite Smith’s lack of productivity at the plate, his time in the big leagues showcased his well-above-average defense.

Jake Lamb, who saw 39 plate appearances with the team also got some starts at third base after being claimed off waivers from the Chicago White Sox earlier this month, was designated for assignment yesterday afternoon.

With Cavan Biggio still on the injured list, Jake Lamb no longer on the roster, and Kevin Smith back with the Buffalo Bisons, the Toronto Blue Jays options at third base seem to be Santiago Espinal and Breyvic Valera.

Espinal’s return off the IL comes at a great time for the Blue Jays, as they have a very important final week of the regular season as they try and keep pace in the American League Wild Card race. Expect Espinal to receive most starts at third base for the remainder of the regular season.