Devon Travis looks set to start the season on the Disabled List. So what are the implications for the Blue Jays and some of their current players?
Way, way back in February 2017, I appeared on Jays From the Couch radio to tee up Spring Training. On air, I made the bold prediction that the Toronto Blue Jays would not emerge from the spring unscathed and that someone was going to start the year on the DL. Initially Josh Donaldson was the unlikely lead candidate for that stint. However, his father is Wolverine so his calf strain should be healed before Game 1 against the Orioles on April 3rd.
Instead it looks like the 2-1 favorite will take the spot as Devon Travis has yet to fully recover from his off-season knee surgery. The 26-year-old second baseman hasn’t healed up well enough after removing cartilage from his knee joint. This is a problem for the Blue Jays. Travis was their best candidate for the lead-off spot and one of their most consistent hitters.
So while it’s bad news for Gibby and the legions of Blue Jays fans, there are some for whom Devon’s extended absence would be extremely beneficial. So if it benefits them, maybe it does benefit the team after all. Let’s take a look at how this factors in for some of the current Blue Jays:
An obvious choice for beneficiary. With no Travis on the roster, Ryan Goins gets to extend his Blue Jays tenure a little bit longer. A likely candidate to get squeezed out and DFA’d to make room for outfield options, the 29 year-old instead gets to split time in a platoon with Darwin Barney and try to show that his bat has a little more life in it that initially thought. If he does that, maybe the Blue Jays can work out a trade to get a prospect for the serviceable infielder. If he repeats 2016 and hits .186 again, he goes down to Buffalo without a thought.
MELVIN UPTON / ZEKE CARRERA
Unfortunately, it’s hard to see a benefit for the Blue Jays with these two likely taking the left field platoon into the lead-off spot that Travis vacates. Melvin Upton hasn’t hit above .250 in a full season since 2008, and his on base percentage last year was an abysmal .261 with Toronto after his arrival from the Padres. His bat was worth -10 runs against the average.
But at least Upton can still run, evidenced by the 27 bases he stole last year. Ezequiel Carrera doesn’t even offer that. Below average with the bat (-5) and on the bases (-2), Zeke gives nothing your prototypical leadoff man provides. His career average from the first slot in the batting order is 50 points worse than his average at the bottom. If these two get slotted in and they struggle, the boo birds will make themselves heard early in the Rogers Centre.
The other option, save for removing Jose Bautista‘s bat from the middle of the lineup, is putting Kevin Pillar back at the top of the order. The Blue Jays experimented with this in 2016, reasoning that Pillar’s speed made him a natural fit.
We all remember how much of a disaster that was, right?
The experiment lasted 20 games. In that time, Pillar batted .198, only scored seven runs and almost grounded into as many double plays (2) as he had stolen bases (3). Needless to say, a repeat of that performance would not be tolerated. However, if Pillar has committed to not swinging at eyeball-level pitches, and can hit for more contact, he might be the better option to take another shot at that first slot. If he has learned from his past mistakes, he’ll be the hero his Superman nickname already proclaims him to be.
With Travis out, another injury to the Blue Jays infield would result in plumbing the depths of the talent pool to find a replacement. Since Richard Urena has proven himself way too green for MLB action, a couple other options have taken steps forward.
Jake Elmore, who I am resisting every urge in my body to nickname Mack, has made a career out of coming up and playing any position needed. He actually played one game at every position in 2013 with Houston. Last season in Milwaukee he played second, third, and all three outfield spots. This spring, Elmore has seen a lot of action already. The 29-year-old has stepped to the plate more times than any Blue Jays player other than Anthony Alford. This could be a sign that John Gibbons and his team want to take a long look and make sure he’s the guy they want from Buffalo.
Also seeing a lot of spring action is Jon Berti, the former 2011 18th rounder out of Bowling Green. Last year, the 27-year-old was stuck at New Hampshire for most of the season. When he did get up to Buffalo, he was anemic at the plate (.150 BA in 2016). He’s a more than capable fielder though. Only three errors across the board last season means he won’t hurt Toronto in the field. Andy Burns 2.0 showed life on the bases as well, with a couple stolen bases during the spring. For a team that could be bereft of speed options off the bench, Berti would give Gibbons more options at the end of the game (especially if Kendrys Morales singles).
Brett Lawrie is not getting any benefits from Devon Travis’ injury. Brett Lawrie is not coming back to the Blue Jays. Unless he’s willing to eat a massive slice of humble pie and agree to tone down some of the antics that got him run out of Toronto, the Blue Jays are not going to sign Lawrie even with the 98 games of added 2B experience he picked up with the White Sox last year. Plus, the main problem with Travis is that he gets injured a lot. Lawrie isn’t going to fix that issue either. The reason he hasn’t rushed to find a new club is because he’s still dealing with “minor soft-tissue discomfort in his lower body.” Yep. That’ll help the cause.
Perhaps the Blue Jays’ most interesting strategy for dealing with Travis’ injury is using Steve Pearce at second base until Travis can return. It’s not a foreign concept for Pearce. He primarily plays at first base and in the outfield, but he’s seen 33 games at the keystone position in the past two years, only making one error. Pearce would keep the offensive levels up, at least against left-handed pitching. This might be the best strategy for replacing Travis.
Justin Smoak benefits from the last strategy because it means his playing time at first will remain constant during Travis’ DL stint. Or given his .143 average this spring, maybe he doesn’t benefit since poor hitting will hasten his exit from Toronto. Forget I mentioned Pearce for second. He needs to keep Smoak on the bench.
*Featured Image Credit: Bliss Photography
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