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Photo Credit: Keith Allison/FLICKR

Depth, Dollars, and Devon Travis’s Future at Second Base

During a radio hit on Tuesday, unprompted, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins brought up the idea of Devon Travis potentially playing somewhere other than second base for his club in the future.

Asked by Scott MacArthur and Dave Feschuk of TSN 1050 about how the club proceeds with their oft-injured second baseman — who Atkins also revealed may be healthy enough to rejoin the club this month — the GM explained: “There’s no question you have to factor in track record and durability, and you have to plan accordingly. We will do everything we can to build in and around it. At the same time we feel Devon has earned the right to be given every opportunity to be that everyday second baseman for us. And who knows? Maybe one day it’s a different position for him, because of an acquisition that we make — he’s played in the outfield before, he’s a very good athlete — but he projects to be our second baseman.”

This morning Ian wrote a little bit about this over at the Blue Jay Hunter, noting that it’s an interesting alternative route that the Jays could take. Thinking about it, though, I’m not sure it’s necessarily the alternative. And that’s maybe what Ross was — maybe inadvertently — getting at.

His quote continued: “We’re going to do everything we can to get him back in that fold. And we’ll have to think about not building depth just in and around Devon Travis — as we’ve all seen this year, you have to have it at every position to be a championship organization.”

Since day one, Atkins and Mark Shapiro have been adamant about the importance of depth, and I often think that it’s through the prism of depth that we can best understand their mindset. Some examples: they came in and moved a good reliever with control (Liam Hendriks) for short term starting depth (Jesse Chavez); when that didn’t work out, they flipped Chavez for an even depth-ier guy in Mike Bolsinger; they took on money in the Francisco Liriano deal just to add a pair of depth prospects (Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez); they’ve used the Rule 5 draft to try to bring in depth (Joe Biagini, Glenn Sparkman); just this week they added yet another outfielder in Teoscar Hernandez, and tried to build in some more 2018 starting pitching depth with the acquisition of Tom Pannone.

I’m not saying Atkins and Shapiro are especially keen or unique for any of these moves, because depth moves happen all the time. But their aim — and I think it’s a good one — seems to be to avoid precisely what happened to this club this year: having their top guys under-perform or get injured and having no one in behind them better than Ryan Goins, Darwin Barney, Mat Latos, Cesar Valdez, etc.

The best way to do that — which is also the best way to hit on late-blooming or underappreciated prospects — is to accumulate a whole lot of depth in every area possible. We can see the front office already starting to do this. They’ve quite frequently added catchers to the organization — in the draft, via trade, and with minor league free agent deals — and they have been collecting upper-level outfielders to go along with several they inherited, as well. But elsewhere — the infield, and pitching — remains a work in progress.

For a club that doesn’t have a lot of infield depth, but now boasts some outfield depth (though we don’t yet know if it’s quality depth, in terms of the big league level), moving a player like Travis from the former pool into the latter may seem on the surface like a mistake. If we think it through, though, it makes a whole lot of sense.

If the Blue Jays make Devon Travis their left fielder, they have a much higher quantity and quality of depth behind him in case he gets injured. They then have him as depth — provided he’s healthy — in behind whoever they bring in to play second base. They also will have Lourdes Gurriel waiting in the wings, potentially at either position, and perhaps also at shortstop.

That, to me, feels a whole lot better than sticking with Travis at second, getting a decent utility guy in behind him, and then being worse off at two positions if he goes down, as compared to just one if they go out and get someone like, say, a Dee Gordon — a player I had reservations about a couple weeks ago, but who has upped his season on-base to .339 since then, and his WAR to 1.9, and who (small ball being bullshit aside) would certainly add a dimension of speed and contact that this lineup could use.

Which isn’t to say that it has to be Gordon, or a player who fits that profile, but a second baseman makes a lot of sense. And second baseman who could fill in at short makes even more sense.

So what would this mean for the current left field duo of Ezequiel Carrera and Steve Pearce? “Who gives a shit?” would be one answer to that question — though it’s hard to give with a completely straight face, as this team is so wanting for offence, and Carrera (118 wRC+) and Pearce (140 since returning from the DL in mid-June) have been two of their best bats. But Carrera could be part of the solution in right field, and Pearce… has probably earned the right to Kendrys Morales’s job at DH, but because of money (and the Jays’ presumed, and maybe not entirely crazy, belief that there’s more left in Kendrys than we’ve seen), I’m just not sure that’s in the cards.

Optimally, I kinda think you move both — again, assuming that moving Morales isn’t happening. Or you at least find someone to push Carrera back down the depth chart. Which maybe is what Teoscar is for. And which maybe is a bit unfair to ol’ Zeke, who has had about as nice a season as is possible for him, but who still probably doesn’t rise to the level of “second division” regular.

A top of the order with Gordon (or whoever they can acquire), Travis, Donaldson, and Smoak seems like a pretty good start to me. There are some big “ifs” in there — Smoak has to maintain, Donaldson has to bounce back, Travis has to stay healthy — but it could work. Fill out the lineup with Martin, Morales or Pearce, a better right fielder than Carrera, plus Tulo and Pillar, and… I dunno… it doesn’t seem all that bad.

Even if you give Carrera a shot at replicating his success, it’s not awful.

Even if Travis gets hurt and you have to replace him with Alford or Pompey or Hernandez or Gurriel, that could work.

And if you’re moving out a DH, and maybe Carrera, that should at the very least least give you a shot at adding some of that infield or pitching depth you currently lack.

Plus, if you’re talking Gordon, that’s a $10 million salary. Same as if it’s Ian Kinsler, who has one year left on his deal in Detroit, and may be attainable in trade. If you’re talking Jed Lowrie, that’s a $6 million salary. Even free agents like Neil Walker or Brandon Phillips could end up being short-term options in this scenario.

The way it stands now, as I’ve calculated a couple times this summer, if you look at the money already on the books for next year, then factor in estimated arbitration raises and money for pre-arb guys, the Jays are already set to spend around $130 million next year. That leaves the club $30 to $35 million south of where their current payroll is. So, if the payroll stays level, I think they could pretty easily add one of these guys, add another low-to-mid-tier starter (like, say, Marco Estrada), and still have room to manoeuvre — especially if money to Pearce or Morales ends up going out.

Is that enough turnover to make anybody feel confident about the Jays’ chances in 2018, as compared to this year? Probably not — but that’s easy to say with our confidence as shot as it is right now, and our desire for turnover quite great. But upgrading from getting absolutely nothing at second base, nothing in right field, and having bounce back seasons from Donaldson and Aaron Sanchez will go a long way toward giving this team a legitimate chance. Sure, the Yankees and Red Sox look good, but even the shitty Rays and Orioles have mostly been hanging with them this season. They’re not running away just yet. And who else in the American League is even going to be a Wild Card threat? The Central is Cleveland and a bunch of trash. The AL West is Houston and who? The Mariners? The Ragners? The Angels? Playing for a second Wild Card spot is a great way to find yourself merely playing for the second Wild Card spot, but… I dunno… I think we should take the chance!

And since the Jays seem like they’re going to do so whether we like it or not, going after a second baseman and moving Devon Travis to a position where, especially after the acquisition of Teoscar Hernandez, the club has a nice little bit of depth to cover for him, sure seems to me like it makes a whole lot of sense.

  • AD

    First off, if any OFer needs to be traded its pillar. Put teoscar in CF, his bat will play better. Travis in left, another acqusition in RF, and another acqusition in 2b. I would prefer to move morales over pearce who can backup LF/1b

    • We’d all prefer to move Morales, doesn’t mean it will make the most sense. The return matters.

      As for CF, how about you keep the depth you just worked so hard to build. Pillar is fine. If someone loves him enough to offer a bunch, sure, move him. But handing Teoscar an everyday job is not a good idea.

      • AD

        I honestly cant watch pillar hit anymore. If we want to compete against the yankees and red sox, the jays cant be handing them outs with hitters like pillar, goins, barney etc

        • Just Jeff

          If and when Teoscar becomes an everyday outfielder and if and when Anthony Alford is ready for an everyday role with the Jays, only then do you look at moving Pillar. He’s frustrating to watch at times sure, but he’s the least of our outfield problems.

        • The Humungus

          Player A – .328 wOBA, 99 WRC+, 4.2 UZR, 11 DRS
          Player B – .301 wOBA, 84 WRC+, 6.2 UZR, 15 DRS
          Player C – .303 wOBA, 85 WRC+, -1.0 UZR, 2 DRS
          Player D – .319 wOBA, 99 WRC+, -2.1 UZR, 11 DRS
          Player E – .320 wOBA, 99 WRC+, -10.8 UZR, -6 DRS

          Those are the CFs in the AL East right now. Starting CF for all teams. I’d say to guess who’s who, but seriously, none of them are all that good. I know you really dislike Pillar, but seriously, it’s not like every other team has George Springer and the Jays are running out Billy Burns. They all kind of suck.

  • Just Jeff

    I think Refsnyder becomes your backup 2B / LF next season. Goins sticks around as backup SS and I think we see a Teoscar / Zeke platoon in right field. While they could stick Pearce in LF, I don’t believe anybody thinks that’s a good idea. To me, the decision of the off-season boils down to who gets moved: Morales or Pearce. While depth has been a major problem this season, the roster gridlock having an everyday DH who can only inadequately spell our All-Star 1B has created problems across the roster. My preference is Pearce because he can at least passably cover a couple of positions if you want to cycle a guy into DH for a half-day rest, but it all depends on the return.

    I think what cash we have available will be used on starting pitching…..they need 2 starters unless you believe in Biagini as a starter. That’ll run between $20 million and $30 million in all likelihood. Guys like Gurriel, Pompey and Alford will be kept in AAA for depth; at least to start the year.

  • Matty

    I can’t see Travis at any other position besides 2B. Maybe 3B…Short, Tree Trunk legs, pigeoned toed with T-Rex arms won’t pass in the outfield. I can’t see how running top speed and diving in the outfield is any easier on the body than playing second either.

    Too short for 1B, too slow for OF. Besides 2B, he could possibly play 3B but his arm might not pass there either.

    Why are we wanting to move him off second again? I’d rather Gordon be moved to LF over Travis should he be acquired.

      • Matty

        Overthink? There is a reason he’s a 2B, because it suits his skill set. He is also very capable at 2B so moving him off the position he is best suited for and putting him in the outfield is not a good plan for the Jays or Travis.

        • The Humungus

          The Tigers had moved him to CF in the minors as a trial because he was blocked by Kinsler. The word is they would have kept him out there had Gose not become available. You really can’t assume he wouldn’t be perfectly fine in LF. He’s basically the same size as Shannon Stewart, who was totally fine in LF despite the fact that he may have had the worst throwing arm we’ve ever seen in a Jays uniform.

          • Matty

            Shannon Stewart was horrible in the outfield. He was a ball player because he could hit and run not field or throw.

            All I’m saying is Travis is perfectly suited to play 2B and moving him to try and keep him healthier is pointless

          • The Humungus

            But, doesn’t that prove Stoeten’s point about not overthinking the tools necessary to be a competent leftfielder?

            Travis can hit just as well, if not better than Stewart.

      • Glassman

        Stewart could play defense just fine in the OF aside from throwing the ball. What tools does Travis not have to be an OF? He has decent speed and played CF in the minors. I’m pretty sure if you can play CF (especially a team like the tigers and their massive OF thinking it could work) then why would it be an issue to play LF? He is only 8cm shorter then Pillar (Travis 175cm to Pillar 183). I couldn’t find his wing span though.

        • Matty

          The Jays should try and improve their defence not make it worse by having guys out of their natural position. Shannon Stewart hit over 300 with 40 steals, that is the only reason he played. He was a fast DH basically and if he could have played 2B he would have.

          Travis has one of the quickest pivots I’ve seen and moving him off 2B Is plain dumb

          • Glassman

            The idea of moving him off of 2B is if they have a replacement (like Gordon) and then move him to the OF. The reason being is that you would have more depth if he got hurt and you protect yourself more incase of injuries so we don’t have the likes of Goins and Barney playing everyday. Also, I’m pretty sure Travis would be an upgrade defensively over what we have there now. Don’t discount the idea of him playing Left until you actually see him play in the OF instead of watching him at 2B and saying he he wouldn’t be able to play OF. He is athletic enough that he probably could, if the knee holds up. Maybe I am wrong about this. Maybe we will never find out. But don’t discount it until you actually see him out there.

          • He’s an OK second baseman. Hardly great. And guys move off their “natural position” all the time. I’d wager he was a shortstop before going to Florida State — they’re all shortstops.

            Really narrow thinking here.

        • Matty

          I get this was hypothetical based on getting a guy like Gordon, but of that actually happened I’d rather Gordon move to left where his body fits better than Travis. And if Travis inevitably gets hurt Gordon is ready to step in at 2B. Trust me I like depth, having Travis work out in LF in spring wouldn’t hurt but the team is still better with him at 2B when possible

        • Matty

          Of course who does and what? No Travis wasn’t a short stop. Didn’t say he was a great 2B, great pivot yes, great 2B no.

          Jays have one of the worst defences in baseball so let’s move players who are good where they are to somewhere where they won’t be good. Smart. This isn’t rocket science

          • 1) Of course he has the skills to play left field.

            2) Forgive me if I don’t quite believe you in your certainty that he didn’t play shortstop before going to Florida State.

            3) If you get a second baseman that’s as good defensively as Travis (which is the idea), and you move Travis to left field — where he’ll be more than good enough (despite your bizarre insistence he won’t be), and surely an upgrade on what they’ve been running out there this year — then you just improved your defence. Get a clue please.

          • Glassman

            Moving him to LF would mean getting someone to play 2B instead. If that someone at 2B is just as good defensively as Travis, which wouldn’t take a lot, then you do not hurt your defense by moving him to LF, especially when he has played CF before. The shortstop comment was because most players move off of their natural postion e.g. SS to 2B, 3B to 1B, CF to LF or RF. Or in Donaldson’s case, C to 3B. And considering what is currently in BOTH corner outfield spots in terms of defense, I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t be worse.

          • Matty

            And in your hypothetical, I would play Gordon in left over Travis if both were on the field at the same time.

            The Jays are trying to field a great team, not just a plug and play type team so having guys in positions that best fit their skill set should be the goal. Travis is not suited for the outfield but of course he could play there if he had to

          • Glassman

            But Gordon seems like an upgrade defensively at 2B seeing how he has a gold glove and played SS with the Dodgers (I haven’t really watched him play. Not an NL fan) which to help the team defense would mean to move Travis instead of Gordon as this would be an upgrade and Travis would be an upgrade or Pearce/Carrera…. So why not do it?

  • Tom Flawless

    Seems to me like most of this revolves around the talent and readiness of Gurriel. Whether he needs more seasoning is another thing, but he sounds like he’s already built for the role of bolstering 2B, SS, and LF. I mean, I just assumed they got him expreaaly hoping for a poor man’s Zobrist / Marwin Gonzalez, backing up both Tulo and Travis. If he’s MLB-ready 10 days into 2018, maybe they can retain Refsnyder as the other IF backup (with occasional time in the OF if necessary). This would allow the Jays to part ways with Goins and Barney while bridging the gap to the arrival of Bichette and/ or Urena near the end of 2019.

  • spud64

    In a recent edition of Blue Jays Central Jeff Blair suggested that he would like to see the Jays “move on” from Travis next year..whatever that means. I would hope the Jays can find some solution for his physical limitations before they take that drastic step.

    • Agreed. People get really, really weird about the “injury prone” thing. And while, yes, the best predictor of future injury is past injury, I feel a lot of times this mirrors those fans who’ve gotten so frustrated at the way a team is playing they think the only way it can ever get better is to blow it all up. I always think of AJ Burnett, who wore the “injury prone” tag all the way through age 30, then starting at age 31 had 7 straight years of 30+ starts. Obviously one example doesn’t prove you shouldn’t care about someone being “injury prone,” but I also think the label gets tossed around way too easily and way too much out of frustration. Plus, even if a player *is* “injury prone,” he still has value — it’s just value that needs to be considered in the context of health.

      • jays17

        Well, he is seriously injury prone and the big red flag is that it’s a recurring knee issue *and* various other things. Having said that, you do hang on to a hitter like him (short, compact swing that sprays the ball everywhere). Strict pull hitters are becoming less valuable with all the shifts these days.

        • Glassman

          What are these other various injuries? He one one other injury which had to do with a bone that didn’t fuse when he was a child growing up. Reoccurring knee injuries can be worrisome so sure though. Hopefully a healthy offseason will make a difference instead of a rehabbing offseason.

  • DAKINS

    If this is a case of accumulating as many good players as possible when they become available, regardless of position, and figuring out where they should play on defense afterwards, I’m all for it.

    • Tom Flawless

      I am, too. If they take that approach though, it’d certainly help to shed the full-time DH, as Stoeten suggests. The Jays have enough young position players on the cusp (Alford, Gurriel, Hernandez, Pompey) that 2018 should offer the Jays the opportunity to get these guys some playing time and see who emerges. And they may even add an OF in the offseason.