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Making Sense of the Blue Jays’ Confusing Opening Day Roster Moves

Upton is out – Goins is in – Pearce is the starting left fielder – Smoak is the starting first baseman – Osuna will start the season on the disabled list.

There were a flurry of roster moves made by the Toronto Blue Jays ahead of the 12:00pm Opening Day deadline, among them, the decision to release Melvin Upton Jr. and the choice to keep Ryan Goins Opening Day roster.

In a vacuum, many of these moves don’t make a lot of sense. Melvin Upton Jr. is a better player than Ryan Goins. But it’s not as simple as that; the Blue Jays have a lot of working parts going on here, which I’ll try to dissect.
 



Melvin Upton Jr. Was Not That Good

In retrospect, it probably should’ve been a red flag when the San Diego Padres were willing to eat all but $6 million remaining on Melvin Upton Jr.’s contract last summer. This left the Blue Jays on the hook for $5 million in 2016 and a mere $1 million this year.

The fact that the Padres ate that much money to get rid of him, and now the Blue Jays are eating the rest of the contract, says a lot. Either both organizations felt Upton was a complete bust or there were issues going on behind the scenes.

At the time of the trade last August, I thought it was a decent move for the Blue Jays; Upton presented some upside in the outfield with speed and power. But Upton was a shell of his former self in all facets of the game.

The Melvin Upton Jr. the Blue Jays saw in 57 games with Toronto was not the player they acquired from the San Diego Padres. So when Upton couldn’t even cut it as the fifth outfielder on the team, it was the beginning of the end of his tenure in Toronto.

When teams pay players to go away, either that player is really, really bad, or they may be motivated to get rid of that player for extracurricular reasons. With Melvin Upton Jr. and the Blue Jays, I believe it may have been a little bit of both.
 

Ryan Goins is Infield Insurance

Again, I don’t think this was the Blue Jays choosing Ryan Goins over Melvin Upton Jr. Technically, the Blue Jays already had five outfielders on the roster (if you count Steve Pearce). Upton would’ve been six, which left Darwin Barney as the primary backup infielder.

Ordinarily, that would be a safe play – but considering that Devon Travis is still working his way back and taking Josh Donaldson’s calf injury into account, it’s not a bad idea to keep Ryan Goins around.

And given Troy Tulowitzki’s penchant to land on the disabled list as well, it’s wise for the Blue Jays to hang onto one extra infielder in the form of Ryan Goins. If more than one of the Blue Jays infielders were to go down, the club would be in serious trouble.

I guess the organization also feels that Goins’ glove is important enough to keep around. To me, Goins is infield insurance for a Blue Jays team which still doesn’t have a 100% healthy infield yet.
 



Steve Pearce is the Starting Left Fielder

This may be one of the positive side effects of these roster moves, but the Blue Jays releasing Melvin Upton Jr. also says a lot about the organization’s confidence in Steve Pearce. It looks like he’ll start the season as the club’s left fielder.

It’s not the way I initially would’ve envision the Blue Jays using Steve Pearce – like many, I assumed he would spend the bulk of his playing time at first base – but shifting Pearce over to left field may not be a bad idea.

The main concern about Steve Pearce entering this season was the status of his surgically-repaired arm, but all seems fine with Pearce making throws from the outfield.

And if the Blue Jays view Pearce as an outfielder, that basically made Melvin Upton Jr expendable anyway, because all of Pearce, Carrera and Upton all hit lefties well. Only Steve Pearce had decent splits against righties, and that made Upton the odd man out in the outfield.
 

Justin Smoak – Still the Everyday First Baseman

Justin Smoak has been a player of contention ever since the Blue Jays signed him to that contract extension last July. As long as he remains on the Blue Jays roster, Smoak will continue to be a pain point for fans.

For all his faults as a hitter, Justin Smoak is a decent fielding first baseman. Again, much like Melvin Upton Jr, he strikes out a lot, can hit for power, but here’s where Smoak makes himself valuable to the Blue Jays; he can switch-hit and hits okay versus righties – something neither Upton or Carrera are acclaimed for.

I finally understand why Ross Atkins said “one of our best teams could be if Justin Smoak is playing first base at a regular rate”. I think the Jays never had plans to platoon Upton and Carrera in left field, that barring a setback this spring, left field was Pearce’s job all along – which made Justin Smoak the everyday first baseman by default.

That’s not to say the Blue Jays can’t or shouldn’t look at improving their situation at first base, but for the time being, Justin Smoak gets every opportunity to prove why the Blue Jays signed him to that contract extension in the first place.
 

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Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

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6 Comments

  1. Greg

    April 2, 2017 - 3:33 pm

    Baseball Reference has the Jays covering approx 5mil of M.Upton contract for 2017, why are most media outlets reporting it as 1 million?

    1. Ian Hunter

      April 2, 2017 - 11:03 pm

      Cot’s Baseball Contracts had the Jays’ payroll commitment for Upton this year at $1 million. I’ve also seen Shi Davidi mention how the Jays were only on the hook for $1 million this season.

  2. Jeff

    April 2, 2017 - 4:30 pm

    Greg, the Jays covered $5 mil last year and only had to cover $1 mil this year.

    1. Greg

      April 3, 2017 - 5:51 am

      Okay thanks Jeff and that’s what Ian mentioned in his article. It’s Just odd BR has the details wrong. Not that it makes a huge difference, but eating 1mil compared to 5mil is much more palatable and would make a diff at deadline. Anyways who the hell cares….IT’S OPENING DAY!!! Go Jays Go!

  3. John Bossy

    April 2, 2017 - 9:44 pm

    Whatever happened to Collabello?

    1. Ian Hunter

      April 2, 2017 - 11:03 pm

      Oddly enough, he signed with the Indians this past Spring, but they just released him.

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