Jay Blue: Jays must rework pitching staff, clear up outfield logjam
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away-
For those of you in the "wake me up when the Blue Jays do something" camp, I apologize for prematurely awakening you from your slumber to try to get you to read yet another blog about the Blue Jays bereft of news to report.
While keeping one eye on the hot stove and seeing that the Blue Jays aren't really doing much of anything (Yay! Oliver Drake is back! Mark Leiter, Jr., welcome to Buffalo), I've actually been able to be really productive in my real life while also doing some work on The 2019 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook in the interim. But I'm sure that has absolutely none of you glued to Blue Jays from Away this off-season.
So here's a look at some of the rumours going around about the Blue Jays (not many) while I look at the roster and see where there may be some opportunities to upgrade.
The first rumour, which I absolutely believe won't happen is that the Jays have been mentioned as being "interested" in Dallas Keuchel, at least according to Jon Heyman. Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith refuted that notion, saying that the Jays aren't going to wade into the deep end of the free agent pool for Keuchel.
That said, starting pitching is probably going to be the area that the Blue Jays seek to address the most this off-season (along with the bullpen). Right now, the Blue Jays project to send Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Sam Gaviglio and Ryan Borucki to the mound every five days in 2019. As you can see, there are only four names on that list and therefore, to ensure that the Jays have a little more depth in the rotation, they'll need to sign someone to prevent relying on guys like Sean Reid-Foley, Thomas Pannone, Trent Thornton and Jacob Waguespack in the fifth-starter slot. I mean, if Waguespack absolutely shoves next year, I'll be as happy as anyone but I can't see him being trotted out in a competition to earn an Opening Day roster spot throughout spring training. The Jays will sign at least one pitcher, likely as a place holder until some of the younger pitchers prove themselves worthy of a major league rotation spot.
I can also see the 2019 bullpen being a place where the Blue Jays sign players a lot like John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) and Seung-hwan Oh. These are guys who are looking to redeem themselves and are buy-low, sell-high type of pitchers who won't cost a lot in the short term and could bring back a prospect or two at the deadline if they serve a need of a team that is in competition for a playoff spot.
That's going to be tough for guys like Tim Mayza, the aforementioned Oliver Drake and others because I can't see the Blue Jays cobbling together a bullpen with the guys currently on the 40-man roster. It's Ken Giles, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, Joe Biagini and . . . . ? I mean, is Julian Merryweather going to pitch in the bullpen? Is David Paulino going to stick in 2019? Ummm, Oliver Drake? Does Tim Mayza stick as the lefty?
So, as you can see there are guys who can pitch out of the 'pen, but there aren't many who haven't struggled at the major league level in the past couple of years. No one is really without warts and this is not the bullpen of a contender. Not that the Jays are trying to be.
The Jays will sign at least two or three guys we've probably heard of before who are looking for some redemption. No one will cost more than $2 million and I don't think we'll see a contract be for more than one year.
Whereas on the pitching side, the pickings are a little thin for the major league level, there are more options on the offensive side of things. The Jays have four catchers on the 40-man roster with Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.), Luke Maile, Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire all looking for time in the bigs. Russell will be on the roster no matter what (thanks to the $20 mil he's owed) while it may very well be that Danny Jansen has the inside track for the second. Still, as far as a catching tandem goes, the Jays are better off than some.
On the infield, the Blue Jays are kind of back to where they were at the beginning of last year, having traded Aledmys Diaz and non-tendered Yangervis Solarte. One acquisition, Brandon Drury, is said to have the inside track on being the place holder for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal, Que.) at third base. Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com writes that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has the starting shortstop job with Troy Tulowitzki's return (and his ability to actually play a good shortstop when/if he does return) questionable. Devon Travis is penciled in at second base and Justin Smoak at first.
Here, I can see the Jays swinging something to upgrade, possibly at second base, particularly if Drury and Travis struggle. I think the Jays are committed to Gurriel at some position but without a Tulo giving the Jays positive value, Gurriel is at short. The prospects who could help the team on the infield are all a little further away and those who are closer (like Richard Urena) have yet to prove that they can contribute with the bat consistently. Rowdy Tellez may get a chance at some point, but with Smoak and Kendrys Morales entrenched, he doesn't make the big club without a trade.
In the outfield, I can also see a trade happening but it's here that the Jays have a lot of prospect capital to go along with a few established veterans. I expect to see Teoscar Hernandez, Kevin Pillar and Randal Grichuk getting every day reps in the outfield but Billy McKinney could be the first to usurp Hernandez while Dalton Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.) will likely be given a chance to show what he can do in spring training before the season starts (if he's still around by then). Being out of options, the Jays will likely have to make a decision on Pompey at some point in the spring or before. I don't know what else Dwight Smith Jr. needs to do to get playing time, but it's likely that he's in Buffalo awaiting another shot. I'm a big fan of his and I think he needs more of an opportunity. I think he can be a productive player with more offensive upside than Kevin Pillar (although without the defensive ability) but it appears that he's fifth on the depth chart (if not lower) and the only thing that will help him is misfortune to others and/or a lack of production from Hernandez and McKinney. Anthony Alford will start in Buffalo, trying to regain some lustre on his rising star. He and Jonathan Davis are both likely Bisons for the long haul although I can see Davis's 40-man roster spot going to someone else.
I think the outfield will be the hardest position for the Jays to upgrade without having to trade away something substantial and with five or six players who are borderline major leaguers or better, this is where the club still has depth.
To summarize, I think the Jays have a lot of work to do to come up with a workable major league pitching staff to get through the not-likely-to-be-competitive 2019 season but the general shape of the hitting side of the ball is probably in place (barring trades).
What do you think?
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