Why the Blue Jays Chose Ryan Goins for their Opening Day Roster

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.

Lead Photo: © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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12 comments on “Why the Blue Jays Chose Ryan Goins for their Opening Day Roster”


This is fantastic, thanks for your.

Gideon Turk

Thanks! Glad you liked it.


Great insight into the reasoning! Thanks for summing it up so well!

Gideon Turk

You’re welcome! Glad you liked it.


“The Blue Jays in effect chose Justin Smoak over Melvin Upton. That decision, although questionable, actually makes a lot more sense.”

Except it doesn’t really make sense. Pearce in the OF isn’t a particularly good defensive OF. Pearce at 1B is quite good defensively. Upton is a much better defender & baserunner than Smoak. And while Smoak’s a better hitter, Upton impacts the game in other ways to provide more value to more than offset the offensive gap.

You’re right that over the past 3 years, Smoak was a better hitter. He had an advantage of a 93 wRC+ to 84 wRC+. Pretty decent advantage there.

Of course, wRC+ isn’t all that matters for player evaluation. Over that time Upton was worth 10 runs by baserunning, and Smoak was -5. So just on baserunning, there was a 15 run difference between the two. By WAR, Upton was worth 3 and Smoak was worth 0.1. That combination I talked about of being more than just offence? Yeah, WAR makes it pretty clear that despite the offensive advantage for Smoak, Upton is the superior player.

If we focus more on 2015-2016, the offensive gap shrinks – Upton has a 92 wRC+, Smoak is 99. So in the 2 most recent years, the difference between Smoak/Upton isn’t significant offensively, but there’s still a massive gap in terms of production and value thanks to Upton’s sizeable advantage in baserunning and defence. Upton is worth 2.7 WAR over the past 2 years, Smoak 0.5.

There’s no reason to choose Smoak over Upton. The Jays are a much better team with Upton in LF (platooned, ideally) and Pearce at 1B, vs Pearce in LF and Smoak at 1B. The defence is much better, and with the right platoon partner, the Jays are significantly better with Upton vs LHP and Pearce full time at 1B. Or even Pearce in LF, Smoak 1B vs RHP and Pearce at 1B and Upton in LF vs LHP.

If the Jays could have got a piece for Goins, a replacement level player, they should have taken it, quite frankly. Seems like the Jays made a series of questionable decisions, and at the end of the day the best player of Smoak/Carrera/Goins/Upton is no longer in the organization. If you’re right that he signs a minor league deal, then the Jays kept 3 replacement level players at the major league level, and put the only guy with a legitimate upside and likelihood to reach 1 WAR in a bench/platoon role in the minors to protect their replacement level players.

All in all it seems the Jays made several poor choices. Any decision that leads you to keep Ryan Goins, Carrera or Smoak over Upton shows a lack of understanding of quality depth, of which Carrera and Goins are not. And if anybody comes to the conclusion that Smoak is more valuable than Upton, then I’d question that decision as well. Because there’s no evidence to support it.


I agree. Toronto’s commitment to Smoak confuses me greatly.


Your right i dont understand why the jays like smoak so muh. He hasnt proved anything. I was content to have pearce at first and then upton/carrera/whoever else. Smoak on bench. He doesnt deserve to be a starter. Also pagan i think would of helped for a cheap price but jays dont want to give him a starting job. Dont undertand

Sheila MacDougal

I have se eral objections to your arguments. First, I don’t agree that Upton is superior to Carrera; on the contrary, the latter is preferable both in the field and at the plate. Among other advantages, Carrera is terrific in the clutch and in big games; indeed he is among the best on the team in that regard, while Upton is among the worst.
My second objection is that both Smoak and arguably Carrera have not reached their peaks, while Upton is 33 and on a marked decline. That does not show up in the statistics you cite but is hugely significant, especially in the comparison with Smoak. Also, Smoak is considered a good defensive first baseman, so the Pearce (LF)-Smoak combo is defensively superior to Upton-Pearce (1B). As for Goins, he is definitely useful to keep as a utility backup to Travis, and also has superior market value (given Upton’s zero) so can at some point be traded if Travis proves reliably healthy and another infielder can be called up from the minors. Retaining Upton, who is a worthless commodity, while losing Goins who had no options left, would have been a simple mistake. This is an occasion to applaud a shrewd decision by the tip brass.


The stats don’t support your argument that Carrera > Upton offensively. You may prefer to watch Carrera’s smallball, but Upton was similar to Carrera in 2016 and superior in 2015.

Carrera most definitely hit his peak. And the sad part is Upton even in his declining years is still a better player than Carrera. It’s not particularly close.

Smoak is an overrated defender, as is Carrera. And the Upton/Pearce combo is a far better defensive unit than the Carrera/Smoak or Carrera/Pearce alignment. Pearce is actually a better defender at 1B than Smoak is, and Upton is a better defender than Carrera/Pearce in the OF.

Goins won’t be backing up Travis – Barney will. Barney > Goins, so Goins will only play as a pinch runner (like we saw yesterday, where he’s an inferior runner to Upton), and in blowouts, or when the Jays need to replace 2 IF (which rarely happens).

Upton is a far greater player than Goins. It’s not a shrewd decision, because Goins is a replacement level player, and Upton is not.

Sheila MacDougal

That was the most informative and insightful explanation of the Jays roster decisions I have seen anywhere online. I’ll make a point of reading more from this author in the future. I would also get my teeth fixed by him once he begins his dental practice if I lived closer to Manhattan. Good luck with your studies.

Gideon Turk

Someone needs to pinch run for Morales late in games. Upton would have been great for that.

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