Blue Jays still exploring middle infield options after acquiring Diaz

Shi Davidi joined Ken Reid to talk about the Blue Jays acquiring Aledmys Diaz, and explains the reasons why the team wanted to get him to replace Ryan Goins.

TORONTO – The acquisition of Aledmys Diaz addresses one of the Toronto Blue Jays’ more pressing off-season needs in a few ways.

The 27-year-old is athletic enough to play shortstop, versatile enough to handle other positions and offensively talented enough to have a lifetime OPS of .799 even after a decidedly disappointing 2017 season. That said, the addition of Diaz doesn’t take the Blue Jays out of the market for infielders. Even after replacing Ryan Goins with Diaz Friday night, general manager Ross Atkins would still like to add an established player up the middle.

“We know we need to complement our infield further, our outfield further, our pitching further,” Atkins told the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America Wednesday. “Potentially even complement our catching situation in some way.”

Diaz, who was acquired from St. Louis for outfield prospect J.B. Woodman, provides the Blue Jays with flexibility on a few levels. He has offensive pedigree just one year removed from an all-star season that saw him post an .879 OPS in St. Louis. If he shows that form in 2018, the Blue Jays will happily find room for him in the big-league lineup.

“All of our scouts believe (him to be) closer to the ’16 version of Aledmys than the ’17 version,” Atkins said. “A guy that can clearly hit major-league pitching and has versatility, whether that’s short, second, some in the outfield even potentially because of his athleticism.”

But Diaz struggled in 2017, batting just .259/.290/.392 in 301 plate appearances at the MLB level. He spent July and August at triple-A, but in 46 minor-league games his OPS was just .693. Because Diaz has options, the Blue Jays can stash him at triple-A if those offensive struggles continue, and in that scenario they’d still like to have an established middle infielder at the MLB level.

Troy Tulowitzki continues progressing well from the ankle injury that ended his season, and could still be a top-10 shortstop in baseball in Atkins’ view. At the same time, the Blue Jays can’t count on Tulowitzki or second baseman Devon Travis (knee) to play an entire season given their respective injuries. While prospects Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Richard Urena developed in 2017, both are expected to start the upcoming season in the minor leagues, creating a need at the MLB level.

Aside from Eduardo Nunez, the free agent market doesn’t feature many super-utility types (Zack Cozart doesn’t appear to be a fit for the Blue Jays given that Tulowitzki is their everyday shortstop). That could push Atkins to the trade market, where Josh Harrison of the Pirates, Yangervis Solarte of the Padres and Jonathan Villar of the Brewers are among the potential targets.

The Blue Jays also have needs in the outfield and on the pitching staff, but it’s possible the front office could be more patient while addressing those issues. The relief market is considered especially deep this year, and there are plenty of outfielders available, too. The free agent starting pitching market is not quite as deep, however, and remains an area of interest for the Blue Jays.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we added a starting pitcher,” Atkins said.

Regardless of what the Blue Jays do next, they still have a long shopping list. It’ll take more than one player to rebound from a season in which they struggled to score and prevent runs.

In other words, the Diaz deal is the first of many moves required to rebound from an 86-loss campaign. But in Atkins’ estimation, the trade reflects the calibre of talent now available in the Blue Jays’ farm system. Not only did the Cardinals want Woodman, a 2016 second-round pick, the Blue Jays could afford to part with him.

“It takes, in my opinion, a deeper system to make a deal like that happen,” Atkins said. “To have the names like J.B. Woodman that you are able to deal from without feeling like you’re sacrificing entirely too much for ’21 and ’22.”

As for 2018, the Blue Jays are better off with Diaz on the roster. By OPS, his worst season surpasses Goins’ best year at the plate. But as the Blue Jays prepare for next week’s winter meetings, their off-season turnover has just begun.