By Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
While spring training acts as a time for players to get themselves prepared for the upcoming 162-game grind, it also serves as an opportunity for management to seek answers to any unresolved roster-related issues.
Like every major league club, the Toronto Blue Jays have their own set of questions that will need to be addressed over the next six weeks down south.
Below, we look at some of the areas manager John Gibbons and his coaching staff will be keeping tabs on in Dunedin.
Led by Marcus Stroman, the Blue Jays rotation projects to include Marco Estrada, Aaron Sanchez, and J.A. Happ. That leaves one opening to fill. Internal options include Joe Biagini, who amassed a 2-12 record supported by an ERA of 5.73 through 18 starts in 2017, Taylor Guerrieri or Chris Rowley. All three of those players have experienced varying levels of success as a starter, but could also compete for a spot in the bullpen.
Should the Blue Jays look to take advantage of a saturated free-agent market, the team could bring in talent like Lance Lynn or Jake Arrieta, though options such as Jason Vargas, Jamie Garcia or Jeremy Hellickson may provide more cost-effective solutions.
When the Blue Jays acquired Randal Grichuk from the Cardinals earlier this offseason, the cost of doing business meant shipping out an interesting pitching prospect in Conner Greene and one of their most effective bullpen pieces in Dominic Leone.
As it stands, the Blue Jays' relief corps will have Roberto Osuna closing while Ryan Tepera should retain his 8th inning duties. Aaron Loup will serve as one of the pen's lefties, and Danny Barnes will look to further solidify his spot as one of the team's most reliable right-handers.
That leaves at least three bullpen assignments that will need to be awarded between now and March 29.
The early edge could go to experienced arms like Al Albuquerque, John Axford, and Jake Petricka. Gibbons would benefit from having another lefty in his pen, and this should create a competition between the recently acquired Craig Breslow, Tim Mayza, Matt Dermody and fast-rising prospect Ryan Borucki. Other right-handers that will look to throw their name into the mix include Carlos Ramirez, Deck McGuire, or any one of the Biagini, Guerrieri or Rowley trio once the fifth starter situation has been hashed out.
After declining Jose Bautista's $17M option for 2018, the Blue Jays brought in a pair of outfielders this winter and now employ a surplus of capable talent on their 40-man roster.
Curtis Granderson and Steve Pearce complement each other's skill sets well and should work as a platoon in left field. Gold Glove candidate Kevin Pillar will remain in centre, and Grichuk is set to receive everyday at-bats in right.
The need for defensive versatility on the bench, coupled with aging veterans in Granderson and Pearce, means that there could be an opportunity for Ezequiel Carerra to retain his current role on the club. That said, up and comers such as Teoscar Hernandez, Anthony Alford, Dwight Smith Jr. and Dalton Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.) will be knocking on the door and, although they would all benefit from everyday playing time in the minors, they could make decisions difficult this spring.
Barring an injury, no one on the Blue Jays roster will unseat Josh Donaldson at third base. Troy Tulowitzki should return to shortstop, while Devon Travis will continue to work his way back from a rash of injuries and lock down his spot at second base. A year removed from establishing career-highs in games played (158), doubles (29) and home runs (38), Justin Smoak will continue to get everyday at-bats as Toronto's first baseman.
With the injury concerns surrounding both Tulowitzki and Travis top of mind, versatility on the bench will be key leaving newcomers Yangervis Solarte and Aldemys Diaz to battle it out this spring. Solarte likely has the edge in this race as, unlike Diaz, he does not have options remaining on his contract.
Although he remains effective when in the lineup, Montreal native Russell Martin (who will be 35 on Opening Day) isn't getting any younger, and the rigors of a 12-year big league career behind the dish are beginning to take a toll on the four-time all-star.
To keep him healthy, the Blue Jays are going to have to get creative in order to give Martin some additional days off defensively.
In 2017, all Blue Jays catchers who did not have the number 55 on their back combined to hit just .185 (57/309) with 17 extra-base hits and a total of 77 strikeouts while throwing out only 14 of 85 base stealers. These numbers will need improvement should Toronto look to compete for a hard-fought spot in the postseason next fall.
Although both Luke Maile and prospect Danny Jansen will be in camp this spring, perhaps there's an addition that can still be made on the free agent market. Those options could include Ryan Hanigan, A.J. Ellis or Martin's former backup, Chirs Stewart.
With pitchers and catchers beginning to arrive in Dunedin, Toronto's first full-squad workout will get underway on February 17. The Blue Jays are set kick off their Grapefruit League slate with a tilt against the Philadelphia Phillies on February 23.
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