Blue Jays: How the MLB lockout may benefit Santiago Espinal for the 2022 season

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 29: Santiago Espinal #5 of the Toronto Blue Jays bats during a MLB game against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre on September 29, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 29: Santiago Espinal #5 of the Toronto Blue Jays bats during a MLB game against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre on September 29, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

If you were to ask Blue Jays fans what their biggest offseason wish lists were this winter, a majority of fans would have given you at least one of these three answers:

  1. Re-sign Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray, and/or Steven Matz
  2. Add another front line starter if Ray and Mats leave or only one returns
  3. Trade or sign a third baseman, preferably Jose Ramirez or Matt Chapman

While the Jays’ front office did not bring back any of the three players mentioned above, they did add to the rotation in the form of Kevin Gausman on a five-year deal. By adding Gausman, the club now features one of the strongest rotations in the American League alongside Hyun Jin Ryu, Jose Berrios, and Alek Manoah.

As of right now, the Blue Jays have only improved the pitching corps and have not added a position player on a major league deal. It is unlikely the front office will be adding a second baseman to replace Semien but could look to upgrade their third base position, an idea the club explored this past season at the trade deadline with Cleveland for Ramirez but were unsuccessful. While Ramirez would be a great target and one that would cost the most prospect capital to get done, there are other options available who could improve the 2022 roster like Kris Bryant (free agent), Kyle Seager (FA), and Matt Chapman (trade).

This all made sense until the CBA expired on December 1st and the owners immediately locked out the players, effectively shutting down the offseason and putting a freeze on any major league transactions. With the two sides currently back at the negotiation table and no new CBA in the near future, there is a chance the freeze could hold out for months and potentially impact the start of the 2022 season. A delay to begin the season would obviously be super unfortunate but could play in the favour of infielder Santiago Espinal, the Blue Jays most likely candidate to start at third base if the club does not add any outside resources.

With the MLB and the MLBPA currently at the negotiation table for a new CBA, the lockout could benefit Blue Jays infielder Santiago Espinal for the 2022 season.

Acquired from the Boston Red Sox back in 2018, this past year was Espinal’s breakout campaign that saw the Dominican product get increased reps at the Major League level and create some highlight-reel plays. Espinal was riding the options bus before replacing Cavan Biggio at third base when the lefty batter went on the injured list and would finish the season with the most reps at the hot corner on the squad with 81 games, 62 of which were starts. The righty-batter would craft a .311/.376/.405 through 246 plate appearances with two home runs and 17 RBI. His .781 OPS sat just behind Lourdes Gurriel Jr. on the roster and Espinal would also finish with an impressive .980 fielding percentage at third base.

With the front office not able to complete any transactions with the CBA negotiations ongoing, Espinal’s chances of starting at third base to begin the season are improving the longer the negotiations go on.

Once a new CBA is in place, one would expect an absolute frenzy to occur to sign any of the remaining free agents left, which includes Bryant and Seager. The competition amongst all the teams will be high to add before the season begins and this could drive the Blue Jays out of contention, depending on how comfortable Ross Atkins and co. are willing to spend this offseason after dishing out some large-scale contracts to both Gausman and Berrios (extension) earlier this winter.

Depending on when a new CBA does come into effect, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a trade, it just seems a lot less likely that a large-scale deal for a player like Ramirez or Chapman would occur until the trade deadline, especially if the agreement comes just before Spring Training in February/March. The focus would most likely be more on free agency and unless some progress was being made before the lockout, a large-scale deal that takes time and effort to get done just doesn’t seem possible before the start of the season. Mind you, the Blue Jays did discuss a deal with Cleveland for Ramirez and could effectively go back to the drawing board with that framework in mind, but the AL Central organization also appears to be wanting to hold onto their star player.

With all this in mind, the Blue Jays could roll into the 2022 season with Espinal at the hot corner with the hope that he can replicate his stellar campaign from last year over the course of a full season, a risky decision for a team that looks poised to compete for the World Series over the next few seasons.

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Adding a player like Ramirez or Bryant would be an obvious improvement to the roster but both have associated costs (whether it be financial or prospect capital), and having a productive Espinal in this role could alleviate these costs and allow the Jays to improve other areas like adding another starter or some more bullpen arms.