The Toronto Blue Jays are playing rather well as of late and have launched themselves back into the upper echelon of the AL East. The team has hit its stride, but will have to shuffle some personnel with a handful of players set to return to the majors. While they should be getting their best 25 guys on the roster and working the rest out later, there is some wiggle room in terms of who stays, who goes, and who plays where.
There are several routes the team could take in constructing their roster when all these players are ready to go, so let’s take a shot at it.
Most important is the return of Joey Bats. Adding Bautista to a group that’s clicking on all cylinders could produce the lethal lineup that many expected coming into the season. He homered in his first at bat in a rehab game on Wednesday and will move up to AAA Buffalo today.
Whether he wants to admit it or not, Bautista would do well to transition to first base or DH in the not-so-distant future. The problem is that the newly-extended Justin Smoak and Edwin Encarnacion have those two spots locked down. On days that Bautista DH’s (in a perfect world there’d be many) it pushes EE to first and Smoak to the bench. The other surplus comes in the outfield, as Bautista’s addition (temporarily) makes for five outfielders on the roster. The simple answer is to return Junior Lake to AAA though the team risks losing him on waivers. With all due respect to Lake, that’s a risk the team should be willing to take.
Losing Lake leaves some questions considering both Bautista and Michael Saunders should be spared from playing the field on a regular basis. Ezeqiuel Carrera has been scuffling and injured as of late but has still authored a fine season; barring a complete collapse he fits in fine as a fourth outfielder who’ll play more often than most. Wednesday’s experiment with Darwin Barney in left probably points to the end of Lake although Carerra’s nagging Achilles problem could prompt the team to keep him as insurance and demote Andy Burns instead. Having two regular outfielders in need of days off or DH time isn’t the best thing in the world, but the Jays can certainly patch together a working rotation with four outfielders plus Barney.
Colabello, set to return from his 80 game PED suspension, will present the most interesting challenge or the easiest out. While he could rejoin the Blue Jays at the end of the month, 80 games is a long time off and it’s doubtful that Colabello could jump right back in and be productive. The team could opt to keep him in the minors to work out the kinks and bring him up later, if they choose to bring him back up at all.
Colabello is ineligible for the postseason should the Jays qualify so they have to put some thought into whether he’s worth playing down the stretch. Do they try their best to get to October, an already projected outcome, at the expense of those who will actually have to play then? Or do they pass up potential gains to get players like Smoak regular at bats that might pay off in the postseason? That’s a delicate balancing act; one that the Jays might not want to deal with. They should be good enough to make the playoffs without adding the wildcard Colabello before September’s roster expansion, but stranger things have happened. There just aren’t many ways to fit Colabello unless one of the first base / DH spots opens up via injury (heaven forbid) or transaction (HEAVEN FORBID), making a triumphant return unlikely at this point.
Should the team decide he’s not worth using at the major league level this season it might be best just to release him once his suspension is up. This is a situation full of “ifs” in a year where the Jays don’t have time to mess around with the roster. Rather than have him kick around in the minors he’d be free to look for another job and would remove a source of potential distraction for the organization. Releasing Colabello would be like ripping off the Band-Aid; it’d be a quick end to a situation that could grow increasingly uneasy with time.
Goins has turned in a tough year, hitting just .176 / .216 / .308 to go with his 0.00 ERA. While he probably deserves to be in Buffalo based on merit, he seems to have carved out a spot in Toronto. If the team didn’t send him down during his struggles at the plate he’ll likely return to the big club at the expense of Burns (or Lake, depending on the Carrera business). That gives the Jays two backup middle infielders, though Barney can give Josh Donaldson a break at third base every once in a while.
Morales will have to be activated or released today; hopefully sometime after this is published. If forced to guess, I’d bet that he comes up for Aaron Loup. The Blue Jays have kept him on a rehab assignment for the maximum 30 days, so either they’ve either been killing time in hopes of a spot opening up organically or he’s really been struggling to get back to form. The smart money is probably on the former, as the only relievers with options remaining are Aaron Loup and Bo Schultz; neither of whom have played their way out of a job. Both have been adequate lately and it doesn’t seem like the Jays will carry three lefties. As a result, it’s pretty much a toss-up between Loup and Morales.
It might make the most sense to give Morales a chance to outperform Loup in the lefty specialist role. If he ends up being better, the Jays get improved production while keeping both in the organization. If he’s worse, they can release Morales and bring Loup back up. He’ll be kept on a short leash and the Jays will at least know what they’ve got before getting rid of him.
The staff ace will be activated on Friday, likely taking a spot from the bullpen. Bo Schultz probably gets sent down in the corresponding move, returning the team to five starters and seven relievers.
To sum it all up, after all of the roster shuffling, here’s one guess as to what we’ll likely see.
- Franklin Morales to Toronto; Aaron Loup to Buffalo
- Marco Estrada to Toronto; Bo Schultz to Buffalo
- Jose Bautista to Toronto; Junior Lake to Buffalo
- Ryan Goins to Toronto; Andy Burns to Buffalo
- Colabello to the ether (at least until September)
The Blue Jays are working their way back to full health and while that’s obviously a good thing, it does present some challenges in terms of roster construction. With the trade deadline approaching fast, there will surely be even more reshuffling. For now, there’s a couple paths forward. The team’s decision makers will have to navigate the forks in the road.
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