Analyzing the Blue Jays’ second base opportunities

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The Blue Jays made some drastic changes to the roster this season, shipping Teoscar Hernández and top hitter Gabriel Moreno, while bringing back Daulton Varsho and signing Kevin Kiermaier. Toronto general manager Ross Atkins recently told reporters that he considers the club’s heavy lifting largely over, though he left the door open for another small step or two.

One area of ​​the roster that hasn’t changed is the infield. That’s not too surprising considering the Jays went into the offseason for another year with a healthy infield under the club’s control. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Matt Chapman will be back at the corners while Bo Bichette occupies the shortstop. The only position that doesn’t seem completely settled is second base, although that’s not for lack of options. Toronto has a trio of players who could battle for replays at the Keystone, with manager John Schneider believed to be planning to split playing time based on each individual’s performance in early 2023.

For now, Whit Merrifield looks like the favorite for the early run. Toronto acquired him from the Royals at the close last summer, buying low at a time when the two-time All-Star was sitting on a paltry .240/.290/.352 line. The Jays didn’t seem deterred by those numbers, relying on Merrifield’s career record and generally solid work after an exhausting April. He rewarded the front office’s confidence, hitting .281/.323/.446 in 44 games in a Jays uniform.

That certainly cemented Merrifield’s spot somewhere in the regular lineup, with second base being the easy choice. Merrifield is capable of covering all three outfield positions, but Varsho and Kiermaier are primed for regular time on the grass alongside George Springer. With Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen likely splitting time between catcher and designated hitter, Merrifield will likely man second base on opening day.

This will bench two players who recently looked like top level regulars for the Jays – Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio. Biggio has been in the Keystone twice in each of the last three seasons in the opening day lineup, but that seems unlikely this year. The lefty is coming off a pedestrian second straight year, hitting .202/.318/.350 with six homers through 303 plate appearances. Biggio still draws a lot of walks, but has seen his power production decline over the past few seasons. He struggled enough to be briefly optioned to Triple-A Buffalo last season, despite being recalled within two weeks. He spent most of the year in a backup role, playing all four corner spots in addition to second base.

After Biggio was demoted, the primary second base job fell to Espinal. The 28-year-old had worked primarily as a versatile banker since 2020-21. He played his way to more consistent reps with the strong early months in 2022, hitting 0.271/0.323/0.425 by the end of June. He even secured a star appearance for this excellent early work, but was unable to sustain that production for a full season. Espinal hit .261/.321/.317 starting in July, giving Biggio and (after the deadline) Merrifield a little more stretch run time.

With Merrifield in the league, Espinal and Biggio each entered the offseason as at least reasonably realistic potential trades. Espinal’s ability to cover shortstop when Bichette was injured and/or needed a day off made him look more solid than Biggio in Toronto, although it seemed reasonable that teams could draw on either player. So far there is no indication that Toronto have discussed with other clubs either.

Given the few middle infield options available through free agency, it is possible that teams such as the White Sox, Angels, Giants or Brewers could still be in contact with Atkins and his staff in the months to come. coming The Jays see no urgency to trade either player, especially given the health uncertainties in Kiermaier and Springer. An injury to either could push Merrifield back onto the field more often, requiring Espinal and/or Biggio to deal with Keystone more regularly.

Espinal and Biggio each qualified for arbitration for the first time this winter. Both are projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to be in the $2 million to $3 million range. This is hardly detrimental, although there are arguments for considering trade opportunities. As MLBTR’s Darragh McDonald noted last week, the Blue Jays currently project to enter the season around the $233 million luxury tax threshold. There are enough errors in arbitration predictions that they could potentially enter the year above or below that threshold.

A team’s taxpayer status is not determined until the end of the season, and the organization may find itself wanting to break that mark in order to maximize their chances in a competitive AL East. However, if the club is happy with its strength in the field — especially if it’s confident that Addison Barger will be ready for MLB action fairly early in the season — it might make sense to bid for either Espinal or Biggio . They are not under pressure but would probably be open to the possibility, especially if they can get immediate rotation depth or bullpen help.


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