Now that free agent second basemen Robinson Cano, Omar Infante and Mark Ellis are off of the market, it’s looking more and more like Ryan Goins will get a shot at the Toronto Blue Jays’ starting second base job in 2014. Manager John Gibbons explained at the Winter Meetings that the Blue Jays view Goins as ‘top dog’ over utility player Maicer Izturis entering the season.
“Today that’s the way we look at it,” Gibbons said. “Alex [Anthopoulos] could go out and make a trade for somebody to bring a second baseman in. I don’t know if that’s going to happen. But if not, I really like what Goins did.”
The alternatives have started to disappear. Cano, Infante and Ellis are off of the market (by the way, the Blue Jays aren’t believed to have shown serious interest in Ellis). Utility players such as Willie Bloomquist, Skip Schumaker, Kelly Johnson, Nick Punto, David Adams and Ryan Roberts have also signed.
This leaves the trade market. Nick Franklin should be available now that the Mariners signed Cano, but the switch-hitter’s strikeout numbers are worrying even if he’s a promising, affordable player under long-term control. Brandon Phillips also appears to be available, but the 32-year-old’s offensive numbers have dropped off and taking on his $50 million contract would limit the Blue Jays’ flexibility elsewhere.
The Blue Jays have limited flexibility, too. If they go with an eight-man bullpen again, there won’t be room on the bench for a utility player other than Izturis. This would open up second base for Goins, who appeals to team decision makers because of his steady glove.
“We've got to play better defense or forget it,” Gibbons said. “It's a big part of it. It's a big part of all sports. You've got to defend. We did. We were bad early on and that affected us in a big way.”
Goins hit .252 with a .264 on-base percentage in 2013, so expecting the 25-year-old to succeed in a full-time role would be asking a lot, especially considering that his numbers against left-handed pitching have suffered in each one of his four full seasons as a professional. Roster space permitting, it would be prudent for the Blue Jays to add a right-handed hitting complement if the left-handed hitting Goins projects as their starter.
If the Blue Jays acquire enough starting pitching to go with a seven-man ‘pen, they’d have room for another bench player on the roster. The Blue Jays could use that roster spot to acquire someone capable of complementing Goins at second in the same way that Mark DeRosa contributed as a right-handed bench bat in 2013. Here’s a mostly speculative look at some options (career slash line vs. left-handed pitching in parentheses):
- Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals (.262/.334/.453) - The strikeout-prone switch hitter spent most of the 2013 season in the minor leagues, but may have a role in Washington following the trade of Steve Lombardozzi. He still has minor league options, which creates flexibility.
- Jayson Nix, free agent (.244/.320/.407) - The 31-year-old former Blue Jays infielder started 41 games at shortstop for the 2013 Yankees, and has experience at second and third base. Acquiring Nix would probably not cost much.
- Jamey Carroll, free agent (.292/.365/.369) – The Blue Jays maintain some interest in the 39-year-old. His history of hitting left-handers and playing multiple positions has generated interest from AL East teams including the Tampa Bay Rays.
- Ryan Raburn, Cleveland Indians (.263/.336/.492) - Raburn can play both corner outfield positions as well as second base. The Indians are expected to listen to trade offers on their many bench players. However, after hitting 16 home runs with a .901 OPS in 2013, Raburn won't be easy to acquire.
- Yuniesky Betancourt, free agent, (.263/.297/.402) - The Blue Jays, Orioles and Marlins are among the potential landing spots for Betancourt, who has hit 49 home runs since 2010 while playing all four infield positions.
- Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers (.262/.389/.440) and Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves (.231/.339/.420) - Their numbers have fallen off in recent years their respective teams would have to take on salary in any deal.
The Blue Jays don’t appear to be bluffing when it comes to Goins’ chances of becoming an everyday player. They like his defence and there aren’t many alternatives capable of starting at second. Yet if bench space permits, adding a complementary player to a low-risk deal would set Goins up for success by easing him in to the starting lineup without over-exposing him.