Stoeten Opens Gregor’s Box – 02/22/17

GregorBag

What would happen if the Blue Jays played a season and there were no Griff Bags or Benny Fresh chats for me to hijack?

Not a whole lot, it turns out, because 2016 was a season without those sweet, delicious, painful collections of questions from utter dopes. And it turned out fine, I guess. Minus just a little slice of magic.

But we do have one other option, and that’s Gregor Chisholm’s Inbox. And while it may be the Griff Bag’s infinitely less bent cousin, and I may actually be mostly giving actual, serious answers here, I hijacked the shit out of his latest one for BlueJays.com anyway.

So let’s do it to it!

As always, I have not read any of Gregor’s answers. If there’s a question you’d like me to answer, submit it to Gregor in his post and maybe he’ll select it for a future mail bag. Fingers crossed!

Who is going to be the Opening Day starter on the road and at home?

— Liz, Toronto

Would it surprise me if John Gibbons rewarded J.A. Happ for his 20 win season in 2016, and for his veteranness, and gave the Opening Day job to him? No, it wouldn’t. But the good money seems to be on Aaron Sanchez getting the gig. He was the Jays’ best pitcher last season, he’s said to have no restrictions on him this year, and so getting as many starts as possible out of him seems like the thing to do.

Also worth noting: if Francisco Liriano is deployed in the fifth slot, as most also expect, having Happ slotted in first would mean going to lefties in back-to-back starts when the rotation turns over. Not that they couldn’t easily get around that, but it’s perhaps another point in Sanchez’s favour.

Who will start in the Jays’ Home Opener against Eric Thames (!) and the Brewers is, of course, complicated by how the whole rotation shakes out — and, obviously, whether everybody is healthy to start the season.. I would assume that they won’t be skipping their fifth starter, likely Liriano, very often, so the fact that there are two off days between Opening Day and the Home Opener probably doesn’t mean much, and probably means that it’s whoever goes into that number two slot who ends up getting that assignment.

For my money, that’s Happ. But I assure you I haven’t thought a whole hell of a lot about this kind of stuff just yet, so maybe there are reasons why something else makes better sense. Off the top of my head, though, I like the idea of the rotation going Sanchez, Happ, Estrada, Stroman, Liriano. I could flip Stroman and Estrada, depending on which iteration you think gives opponents a more different look as you go through the rotation.

But what the hell do I know?

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How many games do you think Kendrys Morales plays at first?

— Danny M.

It’s been interesting to hear Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro comment on Morales as a guy who will potentially play at first base some, given that he’s made just 15 starts there over the last two seasons combined, and only played upwards of 30 games in each of the three seasons prior to that.

Shapiro told Sportsnet’s Tim and Sid this week that his lack of playing time there over the last two years is explained by the fact that the Royals had Eric Hosmer ahead of him on the 1B depth chart, and it didn’t make much sense to have his excellent glove at DH — the intimation being that we’ll possibly see more of Morales at first base than Royals fans did. Maybe. But part of me thinks this is the front office being kind to their big, expensive signing. I’m not so sure we’ll see him very often, and I’m not so sure that he’s actually viable there.

That said, with Justin Smoak being incumbent-ish at first base, I’m certainly not going to shit on the idea of having Morales as an option. But who exactly will he be moving off of DH for? If the Jays had an outfielder who needed to play every day and could push Bautista to DH, then I’d get it, but for now they certainly don’t. To me it’s most likely that you’ll only occasionally see Morales on the field, giving up the DH spot to give a small rest to a veteran like Bautista, Donaldson, or Tulo, or to occasionally keep Russell Martin’s bat in the lineup on days when Jarrod Saltalamacchia is catching. But that’s probably about the extent of it.

First base is Smoak’s job to lose, and when he yet again fails spectacularly, I think it will be Steve Pearce who ends up taking the ball and running with it.

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What is your projected batting lineup?

— Charles L, Seoul, South Korea

I don’t have one.

But… OK. Here goes. I’m certainly not advocating for this, but if I had to guess, against right handers it would be something like: Carrera – Donaldson – Bautista – Morales – Tulowitzki – Smoak – Martin – Travis – Pillar.

I say this based on my belief that ol’ Gibbers probably doesn’t give a shit that Carerra has a reverse split and belongs nowhere near the lineup (sorry, Zeke), let alone at the top of it, and also on the presumption that he’ll take a little while to acknowledge the spectacular failure of both Carrera and Smoak.

In an ideal world — i.e. what I think there’s a decent chance it will look like by mid-May — I’d switch out Carrera for Dalton Pompey and move him to the ninth spot, and switch Smoak for Steve Pearce. Donaldson leading off? Sure, whatever. I do not have nearly enough shits to give about this to get deep into lineup particulars here in mid-February. Maybe it’s Bautista who leads off, or maybe they move Travis up to do it. None of these solutions is perfect, but someone will have to do it.

Against left-handers it’s a bit easier — just put your money on Melvin to lead off. I’d guess Upton – Donaldson – Bautista – Morales – Tulowitzki – Pearce – Martin – Travis – Pillar.

Upton hit lefties to the tune of .275/.341/.533 last season. You do not want to be a left-hander having to face this lineup.

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Last season, the Jays were fortunate that they did not have a large number of injuries to their rotation. It’s unlikely they’ll be as lucky in 2017. Who would be the team’s extra starters in case of one or more lengthy injuries?

— Joanne M., Toronto

You’re right that it’s unlikely they’ll be as lucky in 2017, but they’d better hope they are, because the options beyond the front five are pretty grim.

There has been a lot of chatter about Joe Biagini being stretched out, but for him to end up as a depth starter in Buffalo there would have to be at least a couple right-handed relievers on the fringes of the roster who come in and blow the doors off in camp. I’m not sure I see that with this group, though the smart thing the Jays have done is brought in guys who are also used to starting, and so could end up as depth in Buffalo or win a job in the big league bullpen.

Mat Latos has obviously been a starter, though his contract has out clauses that mean he may look to catch on elsewhere instead of going down to Buffalo as depth. Gavin Floyd is back in the mix, and has a long resume as a starter, though he hasn’t been one for a couple years as he’s battled shoulder troubles (which he isn’t fully recovered from yet). Lucas Harrell had a good year in the big leagues in 2012 with the Astros and has never really been a reliever, so he’s most likely going to wind up in Buffalo, though there’s a chance he ends up a multi-inning reliever for the Jays. Mike Bolsinger is out of options, so the Jays may feel they have no choice but to keep him on the big league roster just to avoid losing him to another organization, but it also wouldn’t shock me if they tried to sneak him through waivers at some point, meaning he could be an option. Brett Oberholtzer is a depth guy you certainly hope the Jays don’t end up having to call on, but he’s on a minor league deal and will almost certainly end up in Buffalo. And Rule Five pick Glenn Sparkman has never pitched as a reliever; he’ll likely compete with Bolsinger for the role of swingman in the Jays’ bullpen, which would keep one of the two out of Buffalo but put them in line for some spot starts as well.

Don’t go counting on Conner Greene or Sean Reid-Foley to come riding in to save an injury riddled rotation just yet, in other words. If multiple starters get hurt, things could get ugly — though, to be fair, you could say the exact same thing for literally every other franchise in baseball as well.

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How come all the experts keep slotting Carrera in as the option against righties when he had a better year and a career hitting against lefties?

— JT, Alexandria, Ontario

Which experts? These people shouldn’t be calling themselves experts, because you’re completely right, Carrera really has no business hitting against… well… anyone. At least not on a full-time basis.

Maybe these experts were doing the thing I did above, though, which is: slotting in Carrera because they think that’s what the Jays think, and not necessarily because they think it’s sane. Because it isn’t. (Sorry, Zeke.)

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