Santiago Espinal played a very specific role on the 2023 Blue Jays roster. At no point did he secure a long-term starting spot anywhere in the infield, but he still managed to make it into 93 games now that all is said and done.
Unfortunately, his offensive production appears to have plummeted and his defensive value was also significantly decreased over the course of this past season. Point being, if you told a brand new baseball fan that Espinal made the MLB All-Star Game in 2022, it's likely that they would be shocked.
At many points this season, it was easy to get frustrated when Espinal was put in the lineup. He's not a "bad" baseball player, but he also is not all that flashy either. He does not hit home runs, he's not a gap-power guy either, he doesn't play any particular position all that well on defense (although he had +2 OAA at third). A closer look at the stats he was able to put up in the final month-plus of this past season suggests that there may be some promise there after all.
In Espinal's last 51 at-bats of the season, spanning from Aug 27 to Oct 1, the light-hitting utilityman posted some pretty incredible numbers. Ones that you wouldn't know were even there unless you knew where to look. In that span, he hit .375 with a 152 wRC+, six doubles, six runs driven in and four runs scored of his own. Keep in mind that in this time, he was only given four or more at-bats in a game seven times. What this tells us is that against all odds, Espinal took the opportunities he was given late in the season and made the most out of them.
The fact of the matter is that expectations grew way too much for Espinal after his promising 2022 performance. It is entirely possible, maybe even probable, that that was a one-off season in his career, but he is still capable of being a serviceable option when given the playing time.
That was just it, though, he did not receive anywhere close to enough (consistent) playing time. How could he though, when players like Whit Merrifield, Matt Chapman, Bo Bichette and eventually Davis Schneider blocked him on the depth chart? All year long, the only time we saw extended playing time out of Espinal was when one of Chapman or Bichette went on the injured list. Even then, it was the likes of Ernie Clement and Mason McCoy who came up and took some of the reps when these guys went down.
2024 will be an interesting one for Espinal. He is eligible for arbitration this offseason and is projected by MLBTR to earn a $400K raise, going from $2.1M to $2.5M. Technically speaking, he is a non-tender candidate, but he is a cheap backup who showed promise down the stretch last year, so bring him back and see if lightning can strike twice.