The Toronto Blue Jays have several options in rounding out their roster. But in going “all in” options have to be secondary to winning.
Spring Training has begun for the Toronto Blue Jays and, while it is still early on in the process and there are very few question marks, the roster is starting to take shape. For the few spots remaining, there is bound to be lots of speculation and justification for a few different scenarios. For example, rounding out the bullpen is going to come down to a competition of sorts.
This is especially so when you take into account the “stiffness” that Aaron Loup‘s arm is going through right now. His ability to take the mound to start the season is in doubt at this point, which opens up a spot for a couple of arms on the fringe. This will likely put that much more emphasis on the small sample sizes that some relievers will get. As a reliever, you don’t see a lot of innings in the spring. So, whatever innings you do get have to be that much better when you’re competing for a spot.
In the past, we have watched the Blue Jays carry guys on the 25 man roster simply because they were afraid of losing them on waivers, etc. The choice to keep ‘out of options’ players, whether they deserved the spot or not is not something that we can expect this year. Perhaps more than any other season, the club is “all in” and cannot afford to play the options game. The question marks that are lurking in the darkness of next offseason mean that this team may not be in such a competitive position after 2016. Going all in comes with risks, of course, but the possibility of losing potentially effective players is going to have to be part of trying to win it all this year.
Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com wrote about the options that the Blue Jays have heading into the 2016 season. He outlines players who are on the proverbial bubble and the decisions the club will have to make. But, in 2016, the decisions could be more simple than options.
In the outfield, there are several players who are fighting for some kind of spot with the club. With Jose Bautista and Kevin Pillar firmly entrenched in RF and CF respectively, there are two spots open. The everyday LF job seems to be Michael Saunders‘ job to lose. But, then what? It is widely accepted that Dalton Pompey would be better served playing everyday, so that means he’ll likely head to AAA Buffalo. If that is the case, the 4th outfield spot comes down to Junior Lake and Ezequiel Carrera, who are out of options. Domonic Brown was signed to MiLB deal, so if he doesn’t win a spot, he can be sent to the Bisons without worry.
Chisholm shared some insight into how this could play out: “Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has said the club likely will prioritize speed and defence in this final spot. He also wants someone who can play centerfield” At this point, any extra offense would be overkill, really. And, teams don’t look to their 4th outfielder for offensive production. Generally, it is a guy who can come off the bench with some speed and play solid defense. So, while it is tempting to watch at bats, we should shift our focus to the outfield when it comes to this competition. A lot of fans will see Carrera as a guy who is what he is; the club knows what they’re getting. With Lake, he has been given a chance to show what he can contribute in 3 games thus far. He’ll likely see more time moving forward. He is younger than Carrera and could have a higher ceiling. Whether he can reach it remains to be seen.
And, therein lies the rub. This season’s focus has to be on coming right out of the gate in the best position possible. As we stated in Ep64 of the Jays Nest Podcast, there needs to be some belief in the axiom that while pennants aren’t won in April, they can be lost. A poor start can come back to bite you later in the season. It’s difficult to make up for lost April games. That means that Lake will have to actually perform better than Carrera to win the job. Plain and simple. Whichever of the two loses out will have to be exposed to waivers. If they are lost, they are lost. The club can rest assured that they have the better of the two. There can be no time wasted on “what could have been”. Besides, exposing a player to waivers doesn’t necessarily he will be claimed. It’s just the risk.
It has to be a welcome risk, though. This is especially true in the bullpen, where performances are much more volatile and can fluctuate. Again, in Spring Training, the opportunity for a guy to show what he can do is rather small. Oddly, it can be enough time for a guy to show that he hasn’t lost anything, but not enough for a guy to impress to the point where he changes a club’s mind, last season not withstanding. The emergence of Roberto Osuna was a rarity.
With that said, let’s look at who is on the bubble. Ryan Tepera and Pat Venditte have options remaining. Tepera has had an audition in 2015 and we all know how Gibby feels about guys who have been on the club before. This year might be different, though. His spot cannot be seen as a given. As for Venditte, his ambidextrous nature is certainly worth an extended look. His effectiveness against left handed batters is also a plus. But, he has options remaining. Does that mean that the club should take someone else over him just to be sure to hang on to him? Not if he’s the better option.
Joe Biagini is a Rule 5 pick, so if he doesn’t make the club, he’ll need to be offered back to the Giants. If he doesn’t make the club, then it is an acceptable loss. If he is not good enough to make the big league club, they cannot waste time and energy (and potential games) trying to keep him. Now, if he continues to impress, he could earn a spot:
Rule 5 pick Joe Biagini looks good to Gibbons “Good arm. Good curveball. I like everything I’ve seen … He’s shown us a damned good arm"
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) March 7, 2016
And, if he earns it, there will be some guys who could get bumped. Steve Delabar and Arnold Leon are both out of options. Arnold has not been getting much buzz this spring with others taking more of the spotlight. And, as much as we might be rooting for Delabar, he’ll have an uphill battle to convince the club that he can throw strikes consistently. Remember that when September rolled around, he was looked over for a promotion, which kind of shows us his standing heading into the spring.
At the end of the day, both of these guys will have to prove that they can contribute to winning immediately. Spring may not be enough time to do that considering how much competition there is. That means that exposing them to waivers is a realistic possibility. In the case of Delabar, you have to think that a number of clubs would not pass on him.
But, that is the nature of going all in. You like the hand you have so much that you are willing to risk it all. The hand that the Blue Jays have right now consists of some face cards. They’ve pushed all their chips into the middle. That means that they cannot waste time on worrying about losing players to waivers, etc. In taking the best team to Toronto, that means that tough decisions need to be made. The Blue Jays need to be willing to risk losing guys to waivers in order to field the best team. If they do and someone is indeed lost, so be it. Exposing them doesn’t always mean losing them. But, not exposing them means that winning is not the priority. That is not acceptable.
*Featured Image Credit: James G UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.