This past offseason, the Toronto Blue Jays cast a wide net when it came to signing/pursuing free agents and also finding potential trade candidates. With Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro reportedly given the opportunity to add to an already strong young core, the Jays ended up being tied to numerous players like Freddie Freeman, Kyle Schwarber, and Justin Verlander all offseason, although they all signed elsewhere.
Overall, the Jays made a pretty significant haul, reeling in Kevin Gausman, Yimi Garcia, and Yusei Kikuchi to multi-year deals while also bringing back David Phelps on a Minor League contract. Trade-wise, the Jays made a few moves as well, bringing in third baseman Matt Chapman, catcher Zack Collins, and outfielders Raimel Tapia and Bradley Zimmer to complete the roster picture.
On the flip side, the Jays made these acquisitions because they were losing some players via free agency, most notably Robbie Ray, Steven Matz, and Marcus Semien. While the Gausman and Kikuchi deals offset Ray and Matz’s departure, the acquisition of Chapman didn’t really fill the hole at second base that Semien was leaving. This led to speculation that the Jays would still be in pursuit of Cleveland Guardians infielder Jose Ramirez, one of the top players in Major League baseball over the past few seasons. Those rumours were eventually put to rest when Ramirez signed an extension with Cleveland, and the reigns were handed to both Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio to man the right side of second base.
What followed was the one player stepping up and a backstep for the other, with Espinal rising to occasion and Biggio coming out of the blocks stumbling, eventually finding himself on the COVID-19 IL while also spending some time in Buffalo to take a break and regain his composure away from the active roster.
With Blue Jays Santiago Espinal holding down the fort at second base, there are additional benefits to his stellar play off the field as well for the front office.
Espinal has been one of the pleasant surprises this season on the Blue Jays squad. He currently sports a 1.8 fWAR on the season, which has him tied for first in the AL with veteran Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros. His 126 wRC+ sits fourth on the roster and he currently boasts a .290/.346/.451 slash line with five home runs, 27 RBI, and a .797 OPS. As per his Baseball Savant page, Espinal isn’t tearing the cover off the ball but he is finding ways to get on base, sitting in the 64th percentile of xwOBA and 89 percentile in xBA. Defensively, Espinal has a 2 bDRS on the year and has two errors to the tune of a .990 fielding percentage and a four OAA. The righty-batter has also been durable this season and has appeared in every game so far as we enter game 57 later tonight against Detroit.
With the Dominican product playing so well, the Blue Jays have a solid option at second base and can now explore other areas on the roster when it comes to the trade deadline and improving the overall squad for a playoff push later this year.
I would think the biggest need as of right now is another solid arm or two in the bullpen and the possible addition of a lefty-batter, with a few options potentially available as the campaign continues onward to late July. Those needs no longer have to be for second base, as Espinal is most likely playing better than any option that could be brought in via trade at the moment barring a monumental deal.
Not only is Espinal’s play benefitting the team on the field, but it is also providing a significant benefit to the Blue Jays’ front office, which can pour more energy and resources into areas like the bullpen and a lefty-bat instead of finding a replacement for Marcus Semien.
If Santiago Espinal can continue to play well and find ways to keep getting on base and playing solid defense, not only is he benefitting the team, but he could also find his way to Los Angeles in mid-July for the All-Star game.