Blue Jays: Earning the last spot in the starting lineup

Mar 20, 2022; Dunedin, Florida, USA; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk (30) at bat in the fifth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates during spring training at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 20, 2022; Dunedin, Florida, USA; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk (30) at bat in the fifth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates during spring training at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Blue Jays likely have seven or even eight of their spots written in ink when it comes to the starting lineup, and a battle for playing time outside of that. Not only is there an opportunity to earn regular at-bats in Toronto right now, but it could be a situation that fluctuates throughout the season.

For the time being I think it’s safe to say that George Springer, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, Matt Chapman, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will be staples of the lineup. At catcher I imagine we’ll see some sort of split of duties between Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk (and possibly Reese McGuire as well), and second base looks to belong to Cavan Biggio, who could theoretically platoon with Santiago Espinal at the position.

In all, you’re looking at eight spots that are more or less spoken for when it comes to regular playing time, and it’ll be very interesting to see how manager Charlie Montoyo utilizes the last one. Chances are, performance will have a lot to do with playing time.

For example, there’s a red-hot hitter in camp right now that’s trending toward making the team after signing a MiLB contract during the final days of the lockout. It would be quite the comeback story for Greg Bird, who was once a highly regarded prospect with the Yankees that looked like the future at first base for them, but he hasn’t had an MLB at-bat since 2019. That said, he’s still only 29 years old and he’s been tearing the cover off the baseball since arriving in Dunedin. If he continues to perform anywhere near this level, the Blue Jays could roll with a lineup that looks like this:

1- Springer (CF)
2- Bichette (SS)
3- Guerrero Jr. (1B)
4- Hernandez (RF)
5- Gurriel Jr. (LF)
6- Chapman (3B)
7- Bird (DH)
8- Jansen (C)
9- Biggio (2B)

If Bird cools off, or the Jays decide they want to go in another direction instead, they could certainly use their new acquisition in Raimel Tapia on the regular. He also brings a left-handed bat to the table, albeit not with the same power potential that Bird has, but he adds an element of speed as well. Also, with the former Rockies outfielder in the lineup it could allow one of Springer/Hernandez/Gurriel Jr. to serve as the designated hitter a little more often, which helps save their legs, and also improves the outfield defence.

With Tapia in the lineup, perhaps it looks something like this:

1- Springer (CF)
2- Bichette (SS)
3- Guerrero Jr. (1B)
4- Hernandez (RF)
5- Gurriel Jr. (DH)
6- Chapman (3B)
7- Biggio (2B)
8- Jansen (C)
9- Tapia (LF)

I think we’ll see some variation of the two lineups I just laid out for you here, but if I had to place a bet at this point, I’m guessing there will be another version that sees the bulk of the playing time. In that case, I think Alejandro Kirk will see significant at-bats as the DH.

In order to make it work the Blue Jays likely have to carry three catchers, but that shouldn’t be a big issue with the way things are constructed anyway. My guess is that Reese McGuire would be on the outside looking in compared to Jansen and Kirk, and I doubt he’d pass through waivers again like he did last spring. If they don’t find a trade for their surplus signal caller before Opening Day, don’t be shocked if they start the year with three catchers on the roster, especially since it’s a 28-man squad for the month of April.

In that case, and despite being more right-handed heavy, we get what I believe is the best version of the lineup as the roster currently stands.

1- Springer (CF)
2- Bichette (SS)
3- Guerrero Jr. (1B)
4- Hernandez (RF)
5- Gurriel Jr. (LF)
6- Chapman (3B)
7- Kirk (DH)
8- Jansen (C)
9- Biggio (2B)

The stocky young catcher just continues to show off his potential as a hitter, and I have a hard time seeing the Blue Jays keeping him out of the lineup that often. He could split time behind the plate with Jansen, and see a fair bit of time as the DH when he’s not catching. When he is donning the catcher’s gear, that will allow the Jays to use others like Tapia and Bird, and make their lineup even deeper.

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I can understand why some fans want to have a regular starting group all the time, but I think the Blue Jays are very well set up at the moment. Montoyo and the coaching staff will be able to play with the best lineups according to their pitching matchups, and use that flexibility to ride the hot hand as well. That last regular spot in the lineup probably won’t come with a lot of continuity, but in this case I think that’s a good thing.