As Escobar, Vogelbach compete for jobs, assessing a full 40-man roster becomes tougher challenge for Blue Jays

Photo credit:Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Hall
1 month ago
Without a finalized squad, the Toronto Blue Jays may have to do a bit of juggling with their 40-man roster – which is currently full – prior to heading north for Opening Day next month.
If the Blue Jays decide to add another player to the big-league roster, they must first create an open spot by removing someone from the current group. That’s an outcome they’ll face if infielder Eduardo Escobar, designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach, or both break camp with the team out of spring training.
Both players are in camp on minor-league deals, which means neither is guaranteed anything other than a chance to compete for a job. Even so, the odds seem fairly high that one or both will appear on Toronto’s roster to begin the 2024 season.
Vogelbach likely has the best chance between the pair of earning his way onto the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster, considering the 31-year-old slugger’s primary competition is just one other hitter, fellow lefty Spencer Horwitz.
Each would provide valuable lineup balance from the left side, filling the void left by Brandon Belt in that regard. But for an offence still lacking sufficient power, Vogelback, returning for a second stint with the franchise following his brief 2020 cameo, may emerge as the clubhouse favourite with his impressive quality-of-contact skills that don’t compromise his plate discipline.
Horwitz, carrying two minor-league options, impressed during his 15-game stretch with the Blue Jays last season, reaching base safely in 15 of his 44 plate appearances while posting a .341 on-base percentage. He didn’t showcase much power, though, both in the majors and minors.
But what he lacks in slugging, the 26-year-old makes up for as an on-base machine, as evidenced by his .450 OBP and 1.08 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 107 games at Triple-A Buffalo. For now, however, he’s likely better served to play regularly with the Bisons than a few times a week, at best, at the big-league level.
Meanwhile, Escobar has been thrust into a jam-packed infield corps that was already tight for space before his arrival.
At the big-league level, that group includes newcomer Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Cavan Biggio, Davis Schneider, Santiago Espinal and Ernie Clement (out of options). Beyond them, several minor-league infielders are waiting in the wings, such as Addison Barger, Orelvis Martinez, Leo Jimenez and non-roster invitee Damiano Palmegiani.
That leaves both Escobar and, of course, the Blue Jays in a tough spot. There isn’t enough room for everyone, even though each candidate deserves an opportunity to earn big-league reps. If the veteran switch-hitter wants to convert his minor-league deal into a major-league one, he’ll likely have to beat out Espinal and Clement.
While the 35-year-old is coming off a miserable 2023 campaign, where he was worth a career-low -0.9 fWAR across 100 games split between the New York Mets and Los Angeles Angels, he’s only a few years removed from blasting 20 home runs in 2022 and 28 in ’21. So there’s obvious power potential there.
Another element that may help his case is Escobar’s resume versus left-handed pitching, particularly his results over the previous three seasons, as he’s fared much better from the right side of the plate compared to the left in that span – even with his disappointing ’23 performance.
(AVG/OBP/SLG)ISOwOBAwRC+ (100 = average)
It also appears the Blue Jays plan to construct their lineup based on matchups this season, at least at second and third base, as well as in left field with a southpaw on the mound. That should bode well for Escobar and Vogelbach, as they each possess quality splits against hurlers with dominant sinker-changeup arsenals – filling a need amongst the offence.
There’s still plenty of time for things to change between now and the end of spring training, and nothing is set in stone yet for Escobar or Vogelbach. But it’s pretty clear how both players could help this club in 2024. All that’s left now is to beat out their competition.
Should one or both win a job out of spring training, Toronto must create space on its 40-man roster, necessitating a transaction or two. With that in mind, it’s fair to wonder which players could be in danger of losing their spot on the team. So, let’s try to solve that mystery.

Which players are on the hot seat?

The players that stand out are the ones without any minor-league options remaining, like Clement and Mitch White. But the latter is probably safer than the former here, considering the vacant multi-inning relief role in Toronto’s bullpen.
If Clement doesn’t earn a role on the Blue Jays’ bench, the soon-to-be 28-year-old will either be designated for assignment or traded. Based on his productive 2023 showing, both offensively and defensively, he’d almost certainly be scooped by another organization if made available.
White may face a similar fate if he fails to claim a major-league roster job this spring. However, his chances of avoiding that outcome appear considerably higher since he’s among the leading candidates to secure the eighth and final spot in the ‘pen. But that could change if he struggles in Grapefruit League action or is outperformed by Bowden Francis or Yariel Rodriguez, both of whom are currently being stretched out as starters.
Clement is front and centre on the chopping block, but if Toronto has to create a second opening on the 40-man roster, it may need to alter its sights to someone who could be deemed expendable, say, journeyman Wes Parsons.
The 31-year-old righty started Game No. 162 for the Blue Jays last season, and it went pretty horribly as he surrendered nine earned runs on 10 hits – including two home runs – and three walks over four miserable innings. He’s part of the organization’s Triple-A starting pitching depth, but entering his final option year, no one would shed a tear if he were designated for assignment.
It’s also worth wondering about outfielder Nathan Lukes, who has two options left. The 29-year-old lefty is probably safe due to a relatively thin outfield system, but is he worth spending a 40-man roster spot on when Kiner-Falefa, Biggio and Schneider are ahead of him on the depth chart?
Injuries are a part of baseball, and you can never have enough depth. Still, finding where Lukes fits on this team is difficult, especially with prospects Alan Roden and Will Robertson in the pipeline.
Plus, there’s no denying the big-league squad could benefit from acquiring another external outfielder, preferably a right-handed one capable of doing damage against lefties. And, at last check, there were a few with that exact profile still up for grabs in free agency, which, if acquired, would undoubtedly bump Lukes off the 40-man roster.
But perhaps another path could emerge to avoid designating multiple players for assignment – like a trade, for example. If a viable suitor can be located, maybe there’s a way for Toronto to land its platoon outfielder while subtracting from its surplus of infielders, addressing two areas of need with one move.
Such a plan has proven troublesome thus far, as multiple free-agent infielders have signed inexpensive contracts in recent weeks. Nevertheless, one way or another, the Blue Jays will have plenty to consider over these next four-plus weeks leading up to Opening Day.


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