DUNEDIN, Fla. – The roster construction options were already plentiful for the Toronto Blue Jays and into a mix that’s evolved rapidly over the first week of spring training now enters Dayan Viciedo.
The slugging Cuban, signed to a minor-league deal that pays $2.5 million if he makes the team and $20,000 a month if he reports to triple-A Buffalo, will see Grapefruit League action at left field, third base and first base.
How and if the 25-year-old fits will be determined partly by how good his bat looks this spring, and partly by how the other options the Blue Jays have around the diamond fare in camp.
But with 60 home runs in 1,161 at-bats over the past three seasons, Viciedo offers something most of the other candidates for vacancies don’t have – an abundance of power, even if it comes with a 21.6 percent career strikeout rate and subpar defensive skills (he’s a career minus-19 in Defensive Runs Saved, a measure that compares plays made in the field versus the positional average).
"There are a lot of ways it could go so until we lay eyes on him, there are no promises at all, it’s just a free look pretty much," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said Sunday. "He’s a young man, he has quite a bit of power. He hasn’t played third base in a while, but he did come up as a third baseman, so we’d like to take a look at that again. Especially from a depth standpoint, at that position it’s always important, and even at first base, as well, see if he makes it."
There are several scenarios under which he could make the team, the most likely as left-fielder to open the season while Michael Saunders continues to recover from knee surgery.
Some early struggles in centre field from the young and promising Dalton Pompey may prompt the Blue Jays to slide Saunders into centre field once he’s ready, allowing Viciedo to take over in left. Or if none of the other options to complement Edwin Encarnacion at first base/designated hitter pan out – Justin Smoak and Daric Barton are fighting for jobs, while Danny Valencia will be on the team – that may also open up a place for Viciedo, a right-handed hitter.
There’s the possibility of a reserve role, too.
"The big thing is we want to see how he hits, see how he looks, his approach, things like that," said Anthopoulos. "Saunders is going to be back sooner than later, so if there is a chance for him to be here long-term, probably looking at that first base/DH scenario as probably the most wide open spot in terms of competition. Could end up on the bench too, could end up as a guy coming off the bench who could move around."
While the Blue Jays allow pre-season performances to sort matters out, Viciedo provides insurance against other injuries, as well.
Increasing Viciedo’s appeal for the Blue Jays is that because he doesn’t yet have five years of service time and is on a split deal, they can put him through waivers if needed and not be on the hook for the full $2.5 million hit. That minimizes the club’s risk.
Viciedo, due to make $4.4 million with the Chicago White Sox before getting outrighted following the signing of Melky Cabrera, doesn’t have an opt out in his contract.
"But the understanding is that he’s here to see if he can make the club, and if he doesn’t make the club then we’ll talk to him and his agent (Scott Shapiro). We have a good relationship with him," explained Anthopoulos. "We have quite a few bodies for triple-A right now anyways. Even though he doesn’t have anything in his contract, there’s an understanding there that we’ll do the right thing for the player."
Plenty of time remains before decisions will be made, but things start getting real now for the Blue Jays.
Viciedo is expected to join the club Monday when the Blue Jays play an intrasquad game that leads into the Grapefruit League opener Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. With so many players needing to make an impression, there’s little time to waste.
"It’s going to be tough to get them all a lot of at-bats," said manager John Gibbons. "You’re looking at second base, we’ve got a couple of guys there, the outfield spots, and you still want to get the guys you know are on the team plenty of work. So it’s not going to be easy, I’m sure somebody will be disgruntled that they didn’t get enough, but we’ll see."
Notes: The Blue Jays intrasquad game will run seven innings. Scheduled to pitch for the Blue team are: R.A. Dickey, Drew Hutchison, Brett Cecil, Jeff Francis, Juan Oramas, Preston Guilmet and Matt West. Pitching for the Grey team will be: Mark Buehrle, Aaron Loup, Chad Jenkins, Daniel Norris, Roberto Osuna, Scott Copeland and Jayson Aquino. … Russell Martin is expected to catch Dickey’s inning.