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.