No, this won’t be the roster the Blue Jays use for all 162 games, and it probably won’t even be the roster they use a week from now, but if you’re wondering about what the Blue Jays did to their roster today despite it seeming like a bunch of backwards decisions, you aren’t alone.
12 PM Eastern was the deadline for the team to set its opening day roster, and the Blue Jays did so by designating Mike Bolsinger for assignment, selecting the contract of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, releasing Melvin Upton Jr., recalling Dominic Leone from Buffalo, and placing Roberto Osuna, Dalton Pompey, Bo Schultz, and Glenn Sparman on the disabled list with various injuries. These moves meant that the out of options Ryan Goins made the team while Ryan Tepera got the last spot in the bullpen. Yes, Ryan Goins, he of the career -1.2 WARP, beat out Melvin Upton for the final position player spot on the Blue Jays roster. Why? Well, it’s a confusing decision, but according to a club source, this was the thinking involved:
The Blue Jays were listening to trade offers on both Upton and Goins recently, trying to gauge the market for the two players they needed to choose from for the last roster spot. While the market for Upton was non-existent, the market for Goins was actually pretty decent, with multiple teams making offers for the 29-year-old utility man. One American League team was even intent on trading for Goins and giving him a short term starting role before settling him into their utility role once their club returned to health. However, despite multiple names being tossed around, the two clubs were not able to come to agreement that the Blue Jays liked. So, the Blue Jays decided to release Melvin Upton, and hold on to Goins, knowing that a lot of teams won’t even want to pick up Upton for the remainder of his 2017 contract, and there is a good chance that he re-signs with the club and heads to the minors. For Goins on the other hand, the interest in him is still viable, and even though he secured his spot on the Blue Jays opening day roster, he may still be traded.
The Blue Jays were targeting catchers in their trade talks, hoping to upgrade on Jarrod Saltalamacchia before purchasing his contract and making it guaranteed for the 2017 season. With that deadline officially gone, you can expect the club to stop their pursuit of a backup catcher, despite their internal concerns with his throwing ability.
With the current roster, the Blue Jays plan on handing the bulk of left field playing time to Steve Pearce. Although the coaches do really like Ezequiel Carrera, they like him a lot more off of the bench than they do as a starter. That leaves the Blue Jays with Justin Smoak playing at first base, Steve Pearce in left field, and Zeke off of the bench. Although that doesn’t seem ideal, if the Blue Jays would have kept Upton, it would have been the same thing but Smoak would have been on the bench as well. The Blue Jays in effect chose Justin Smoak over Melvin Upton. That decision, although questionable, actually makes a lot more sense.
Over the past three seasons, Smoak has been the better hitter, slashing .216/.297/.403 to Upton’s .229/.295/.377, and the Blue Jays like his defense at first base a lot more than they like Upton’s in the corner outfield spots. They thought Upton was much more comfortable in centre field, a position currently occupied by Kevin Pillar, who isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. With Darrell Ceciliani available in Buffalo to play left field or centre field, and the newly acquired Chris Coghlan also in Buffalo, the Blue Jays felt comfortable enough with the outfield depth to let go of Upton, especially given they believe they have a strong chance to retain him.
The danger of the Blue Jays decisions today is that they are relying on Steve Pearce, a player who has played over 100 games in a season just once in his career, to stay healthy. Obviously the club is the organization that knows his health the best, and if they feel comfortable making that decision, it seems like it could be a smart one. Pearce has praised the work of the high performance department, and has said he feels different because of them. Whether that carries into the regular season, and for how long, remains to be seen.
Lastly, the question of Angel Pagan still remains. The Blue Jays have the money to spend on Pagan because he represents a clear upgrade, but Pagan wants a team where he can be guaranteed a starting spot. He’s still a free agent because of that, and despite the Blue Jays having tried to sign him, he refuses to agree to sign with them because they will not guarantee that starting left field job. If Pagan moves off of these demands, Pagan could still find his way to Toronto, though the club source indicated he doesn’t view it as very likely at this point.
There you have it. That’s the decision making that went into releasing Melvin Upton and keeping Ryan Goins. Will it work out? Who knows. But there is always more than meets the eye, and just because the season starts tomorrow, doesn’t mean Ross Atkins is going to stop working to improve.
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