The Toronto Blue Jays very well could be fine with Espinal as their everyday third baseman, but a lot of things need to happen first
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The 2021 Toronto Blue Jays are a very good team. They may not have started out that way and may not have looked like it at points in the season, but the team that played the final game of the season is much better than their playoff absence would indicate. Now, the front office needs to go to work and build a better squad for a run in 2022. And, as Jim Scott wrote, Santiago Espinal could be an everyday contributor to that team BUT that should not be management’s first thought.
Jim pointed out that Espinal’s defensive numbers over a whole season would put him near the top of third basemen lists. His offensive production could be league average, which makes him a reliable option for the Blue Jays moving forward. However, it is difficult to see that working out without a number of other scenarios playing out. (It should be noted that Jim didn’t say that Espinal SHOULD be the priority. His piece prompted me to write a reply of sorts)
The Blue Jays are about to lose Marcus Semien to free agency. Sure, there’s been talk of signing him long term, but there is no guarantee that Toronto can convince him to avoid going home to a California based team. All things considered, Toronto may need to pay more than they are comfortable with. Whether we want them to or not, the fact remains that they may not do that.
If he leaves, he takes 45 home runs, a wRC+ of 131 and 6.6 fWAR with him. Even though I wrote previously that the club would be fine without that production, it is a significant contribution to try and make up for. A healthy Cavan Biggio would go a long way to making up some of that production, but who plays third remains a concern. If it is Espinal, would the Blue Jays be happy with a drop off in production? Maybe, run prevention is a priority and they can live with those two. After all, this team had one of the best offenses in all of baseball, so removing Semien from the lineup, while a step back, isn’t as big a problem for Toronto.
That said, Espinal and his lack of third baseman power and league average bat should not be considered option number one. Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays should not be expected to enter the 2022 season with a ‘good enough’ option in the infield. 2022 should be about challenging for the division title, not about simply ‘taking a step forward’, which means that a ‘good enough’ option is not good enough.
Instead, Toronto needs to be aiming big this winter. They need to sign Robbie Ray first and foremost. Then, they need to find an option at third. Could that be Marcus Semien? Would he even want to play third? It might be dismissed as a pipe dream to expect a trade for Jose Ramirez or a signing of Javier Baez, but that is where Toronto needs to look first. They should only turn to Santiago Espinal, as much as we like him, if they strike out on bigger fish.
In fact, if the club does not retain Ray, retain Semien (and have him play the hot corner) or land a big third baseman, they will be a much less threatening team in 2022. They’ll be good, but not good enough to challenge for the division. In which case, a ‘good enough’ option at third is good enough for them to try and scrape into a playoff spot. But, that should not be where they aim and Espinal should be a distant Plan B.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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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.