The Toronto Blue Jays’ opening day roster took shape Monday, as Ryan Goins officially won the second base job, Anthony Gose was optioned to the minor leagues and Munenori Kawasaki learned he won’t be making the team. But GM Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons still have many major decisions to make before taking the field for the season opener one week from Monday.
The Blue Jays have not yet announced who will fill two of their five rotation spots, their bench has yet to take shape and Jose Reyes’ hamstring soreness creates unwelcome uncertainty at shortstop. One way or another, Anthopoulos and Gibbons face a busy seven days.
Here’s what we do know about the starting rotation: R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow are in. Drew Hutchison will presumably join them, though the Blue Jays won’t confirm as much. J.A. Happ’s hold on a rotation spot has weakened due to poor performances and back soreness, which means the Blue Jays must now decide between the tall left-hander and a group of out-of-options right-handers: Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers and Dustin McGowan.
Once the Blue Jays set their rotation, they’ll also have to determine how many relievers they can fit onto their staff. An eight-man bullpen is possible, though that would limit the team’s bench depth. Redmond, Rogers, McGowan and Jeremy Jeffress must all be exposed to waivers before going to the minor leagues, which forces the Blue Jays’ hand to an extent.
The composition of the Toronto bench will depend on whether Reyes can play opening day (he was scheduled to have an MRI Monday). If the shortstop’s instincts prove correct and the soreness he experienced is minor, Goins will start at second and Maicer Izturis will back up on the infield.
If the MRI causes further concern, the Blue Jays will be in trouble. Few teams are equipped to cope with the loss of an all-star shortstop, and the Blue Jays aren’t one of them, as Reyes' ankle injury showed last year. If Reyes has to miss time, Goins will start at short and Izturis will play at second, with another bench player such as Chris Getz, Kawasaki or Steve Tolleson presumably joining the infield mix. That’s a possibility the Blue Jays are hopeful they can avoid given the massive dropoff in expected production between Reyes and their other options.
The Blue Jays are deeper behind the plate, where they face yet another decision. Newcomer Erik Kratz appears to have the inside track for the backup catcher’s job over Josh Thole after catching Dickey extensively in spring action. Given that Dioner Navarro has not played in more than 100 games since 2009, the backup catcher position is an especially important one for the Blue Jays.
It’s clear that Gose won’t be the fourth outfielder, which leaves Moises Sierra and Matt Tuiasosopo in competition. Sierra had been viewed as the frontrunner for the position until the Blue Jays claimed Tuiasosopo off of waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks and added a more versatile option to the mix. Both bat from the right side and both are out of options, setting up a late-spring battle for the final outfield spot.
Not that these decisions are final. Lost in the debate about roster battles is the inevitability that teams rely on a diverse cast of contributors in the course of a six-month season. Most of the players who fall just short of the opening day roster will have their chance later on in the season, which is worth keeping in mind this time of year. Plus, teams can create some flexibility by placing players on the disabled list, sometimes with backdated stints that allow them to return relatively soon.
After a quiet off-season, the Blue Jays enter the 2014 campaign with projected weaknesses at the back of their rotation and on their bench. This means it will be difficult to catch up if they fall behind in the standings early on -- especially in the American League East. So while their many roster decisions may be temporary, they aren't at all trivial.