Checking back in on the Blue Jays battle for starting second baseman

Milwaukee Brewers v Toronto Blue Jays
Milwaukee Brewers v Toronto Blue Jays / Mark Blinch/GettyImages

Coming into the season, there were very few question marks about the Toronto Blue Jays roster. Outside of the fifth rotation spot battle and the suspense around the 26th-man role, second base was one of the biggest uncertainties during Spring Training.

With no one player having secured or being handed the role of the everyday second baseman at the end of camp, the Blue Jays seemed content to let the open audition continue into the season and let the best man win.

Between Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio, the Blue Jays were hoping to get enough production from a second base platoon while still being able to slot Whit Merrifield in occasionally around his duties as the fourth outfielder. Unfortunately, things haven't played out smoothly.

After Merrifield's Opening Day start, the three players split the job evenly over the first month, but neither Espinal nor Biggio made a strong case for the role. Just the opposite, in fact.

The writing was on the wall after the first month of the season. Despite every baseball pundit's calm "it's still early" reminders and their pleas for patience, it was evident that without Merrifield, the position was a black hole in the lineup.

Espinal hit a meager .186 through the first month while starting 10 games at second. Biggio started eight games there, and after hitting an even worse .111, it seemed like he may have been playing himself out of a job.

Enter the veteran Merrifield. Although he had played at an All-Star caliber level in the past, most people had written him off after a horrendous 95-game stretch last season with a Royals team going nowhere fast. He got nine starts at second through the first month, when he wasn't playing left field, and hit a beefy .320.

Merrifield has proven he's the man for the job

Not much has changed since that first month. Merrifield has forced his way into an everyday role between second base and left field. He's slashing a healthy .292/.347/.403 with 41 runs and 42 RBI through his 86 games, all while hitting primarily in the bottom half of the order. Despite a lack of power for most of the season, with only six home runs on the year, he's found his power stroke of late. He has also been a menace on the basepaths and is up to 19 steals.

The 34-year-old, who just made his third career All-Star game, has 46 starts and 53 total appearances at second. He has also made 44 appearances in the outfield, and herein lies the problem. The Jays need Merrifield's bat in the lineup every day, but his ability to cover the constantly rotating outfield and lack of depth on the bench means the team can't give him the full-time job at second.

Espinal has 27 starts at second base, around some time on the IL, with a season .226/.304/.306 slash line. Even with slightly improved results recently — he's hitting .273/.333/.394 over his last 15 games — the 2022 All-Star hasn't been good enough to top Merrifield's productivity.

Despite showing some brief signs of life, Biggio has continued his poor hitting for most of the season. He's sporting a .201/.277/.382 slash line with a career-high 30.2 percent strikeout rate and career-low 8.2 percent walk rate. Yet he continues to get starts at second, with eight in the last month.

How long can the Jays keep running Espinal and Biggio out there when it's obvious that Merrifield is the man for the job? The answer is not much longer, if the team is serious about contending.

With the trade deadline fast approaching, it would be wise for the front office to bolster the outfield depth and hand Merrifield the keys to second base for the stretch run to the playoffs.