Despite the summer-like weather in Toronto, October baseball is here. The Blue Jays are headed back to the postseason after the Seattle Mariners were eliminated Saturday night. For the third time since the 2020 season, the Blue Jays are headed to a wild card series for a chance to advance to the ALDS.
Teams are allowed to submit a 26-man roster of postseason eligible players ahead of each playoff round. As per MLB, “any player who is on the 40-man roster or 60-day injured list as of 11:59 p.m. ET on Aug. 31 is eligible for the postseason.” MLB rules also allow teams to “carry extra players through the postseason in the event of injuries, and those players, as well as players on the injured list, can be in the dugout during games.’
Teams are also limited to carrying a maximum of 13 pitchers on a 26-man roster in the postseason. Which means that the Blue Jays could conceivably carry only 12 pitchers, and instead carry an extra position player. In fact, the Tampa Bay Rays had 14 position players and 12 pitchers on their 2022 ALWC roster, as did the Cleveland Guardians and Seattle Mariners. Toronto was the only ALWC team to carry 13 pitchers and 13 position players last year.
Wild card games will start on Tuesday, October 3rd. The Blue Jays will face off against the Twins in Minneapolis in a best-of-three series.
Why the Jays need an extra position player for the ALWC
In such a short series, the Blue Jays rotation is already lined up. Ace Kevin Gausman (31 starts, 185.0 innings pitched), will start game one; Hound Chris Bassitt (33 starts, 200.0 IP) will start game two; and, if necessary, ‘La Makina’ Jose Berríos (32 starts, 189.2 IP) will start game three. That should come as no surprise to anyone, with regular season starter Yusei Kikuchi moving to the bullpen as a power lefty and Hyun-Jin Ryu likely to be left off the wild card roster.
With no off days in the series, the Blue Jays front office will have to weigh what is likely more valuable to the team’s playoff roster: another reliever or a utility player on the bench? Given their playoff rotation is compromised of three guys who all finished in the top 20 of innings pitched in 2023, that ability to eat innings points to greater value from carrying an extra position player.
Assuming an extra reliever isn’t needed, what would help manager John Schneider in late game situations in terms of an extra bench bat or role player? Given catcher Alejandro Kirk is one of the slowest base runners in baseball, with an average sprint speed of 23.7 feet/second ranking him 554th in MLB (only 2nd percentile), arguably a pinch runner might be needed with the Jays trying to manufacture runs late in a playoff game.
What Kirk can do is make contact. He only struck out on 10.7% of his plate appearances this year, and only 12.8% of his swings didn’t make contact with the ball. While that contact did lead to 21 grounded into double plays (GIDP), tied for 8th most in MLB, it also placed Kirk in the elite 99th percentile on whiff rate percentage, and 98th percentile on strikeout rate percentage.
Given the bulk of Kirk’s plate appearances come with him batting 6th or 7th in the order, if he’s able to get on base late in a close game, the importance of scoring that runner will be extra important. While the Jays included a third catcher in rookie Gabriel Moreno in last year’s AL wild card series, they’ll likely only have Kirk and Tyler Heineman this year, with Daulton Varsho serving as the emergency catcher. Danny Jansen is still on the 10-day injured list with a right middle finger fracture that he had surgery on in early September; it’s unclear if he’ll be available for the postseason.
Luckily the Jays have a 2023 version of Dalton Pompey, who stole four bases for the Blue Jays in the 2015 postseason. Recent call-up Cam Eden stole 53 bases in 57 attempts this year with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons after stealing 32 bags for the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats last season. He was called up to the MLB team on September 20th. While he only has one hit in five MLB at-bats, he did score a run after coming on as a pinch runner for Santiago Espinal against Tampa Bay on September 23rd. His speed is a key skill; it could be a difference maker in a high leverage situation this October.
Hopefully the Jays front office realizes that having a pinch runner like Cam Eden available will help John Schneider make better in-game decisions in the wild card series this week. Let’s go Blue Jays!