Early spring games offer valuable hints on major Blue Jays questions

ESPN play-by-play man and Sportsnet Blue Jays contributor Dan Shulman joins Tim and Sid in-studio to discuss several Jays headlines including Aaron Sanchez's as a starter and the contract situations of Jose Bautista & Edwin Encarnacion.

Even if the Toronto Blue Jays haven’t yet answered any of the big questions they faced entering spring training, a couple weeks of games offer valuable hints.

Here’s how those questions are shaping up midway through March…

Rotation battle

The decision here will have repercussions up and down the pitching staff, and not only in 2016. Manager John Gibbons and pitching coach Pete Walker say Jesse Chavez and Drew Hutchison are still in the mix, yet Gavin Floyd and Aaron Sanchez appear to be the leading candidates for the role.

As long as Floyd stays healthy, his four-pitch mix and track record of starting big league games make him a tempting option. You don’t want to bank on him for 200 innings, but if he keeps throwing well he offers present-term value. Then again, so could Sanchez. The right-hander has answered some of the questions that lingered a month ago by throwing strikes (10 strikeouts vs. one walk) and mixing in off-speed pitches, including a promising curve. We’ve seen him excel in relief, but that potential’s still got to be tempting.

If Sanchez doesn’t start now, Gibbons believes he could transition to the rotation later on, but that could be difficult logistically. Just one reason that this rotation battle is the biggest question facing the Blue Jays this spring.

Extension talks    

The Blue Jays face an opening day deadline for extending Edwin Encarnacion, whose spring debut has been delayed by an abscessed tooth and an oblique issue. His representatives visited the Blue Jays’ spring site a couple times, but serious talks aren’t believed to have taken place.

Meanwhile, Jose Bautista doesn’t want to discuss his contract publicly, but speculation continues to swirl about the right fielder’s asking price.

Bullpen composition

The Blue Jays say that they haven’t decided on a closer, yet it wouldn’t be a surprise if Drew Storen, a one-inning reliever in recent years, gets the nod. That would allow Roberto Osuna to record key outs during the seventh and eighth innings along with left-hander Brett Cecil.

Expect Rule 5 pick Joe Biagini and former Athletics relievers Arnold Leon and Pat Venditte to be among those earning consideration for the two spots that appear to be open in the Blue Jays’ bullpen. In an ideal world, the Blue Jays might work out a trade for Biagini, but that could be easier said than done after a strong spring showing.

Fourth outfielder

This one appears to be wide open. Ezequiel Carrera, a known commodity with some speed, does a lot of things well. Domonic Brown has power even if he’s struggled against big league pitching of late. Junior Lake, the lone right-handed bat in the mix, could complement the left-handed hitting Michael Saunders. If Darrell Ceciliani didn’t have options remaining, he might have extra traction after an impressive couple weeks, but the team can stash him at triple-A to maximize depth. If Gibbons has a preference on this one, he’s doing a great job of not tipping his hand.

In theory, the Blue Jays could even go outside the organization and find someone on a roster bubble elsewhere, but that’s tough to do unless a perfect fit emerges.

Leadoff options

Michael Saunders has hit second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh this spring. Leadoff? Not once. On the other hand, Kevin Pillar bats leadoff regularly. That should pretty much answer the question of who will hit atop the Blue Jays’ batting order.