In the wake of a trade that sent Ben Revere to the Washington Nationals the Toronto Blue Jays don’t have a clear leadoff man. We canvassed four of our baseball experts for their pick for the best candidate to fill the role.
Shi Davidi – Troy Tulowitzki
Tulowitzki seems like the most obvious candidate right now, and not just because the Blue Jays went 22-4 in the 26 games he led off last season. The all-star shortstop’s career on-base percentage of .369 is exactly what you want in front of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Though he profiles as a middle of the order type, there are no shortages of those in this lineup, and this may be a way to get the most benefit from his bat. One dark-horse candidate to consider is Michael Saunders, who in 45 career games batting leadoff, has a .321 OBP. That’s not ideal, but if his knee allows him to perform the way he did in 2014, when he posted a .341 OBP for the Seattle Mariners, he’d become a real interesting possibility.
Ben Nicholson-Smith – Troy Tulowitzki
Even if he’s not a traditional leadoff hitter, Tulowitzki’s too good a hitter to bury deep in the batting order. The higher he hits, the more plate appearances the Blue Jays get from an elite offensive player. Leading off may not be particularly familiar for Tulowitzki, but he’s the best option Toronto has.
Arden Zwelling – Devon Travis
The honest answer is it doesn’t matter. With this ungodly collection of mashers you could put literally anyone on the team in that spot and still do well. I’d actually be in favour of the Blue Jays forgoing traditional batting order construction altogether and simply lining up any random combination of Tulowitzki, Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion and Russell Martin in the first five spots. I guarantee you any arrangement of those five will score a ton of runs.
What’s important about this trade is the Blue Jays addressed an area of dire need by trading from an area of considerable depth. Now Aaron Sanchez — who many conveniently forget was the Blue Jays best starter last June when he went down to a latissimus dorsi injury — can audition for the rotation during spring training, while Roberto Osuna and Brett Cecil get some much-needed help at the back-end of the bullpen. The worst case in this scenario? Sanchez gets beat out for the fifth spot in the rotation and returns to the bullpen to give the Blue Jays four fearsome late-innings weapons. The Blue Jays got better Friday night. That’s what’s important.
But if you absolutely need a name, consider Travis, who will miss the beginning of the season as he rehabs from shoulder surgery but is expected back by June. In 239 plate appearances last season, Travis hit .304/.361/.498 and demonstrated an advanced approach at the plate which allowed him to battle through tough off-speed pitches and lay off breaking balls tumbling out of the zone. He doesn’t bring a ton of speed on the basepaths, but with this line-up it doesn’t matter.
Instead of having Travis sprint for second base, why not allow him to jog there while he watches a ball sail into the outfield seats off the bat of one of the sluggers behind him. Sure, he’ll miss the beginning of the season. But Tulowitzki or Dalton Pompey or even Kevin Pillar would be fine hitting leadoff with a batting order like this. The Blue Jays aren’t built to manufacture runs on the base paths. They’re built to manufacture them from home plate.
Jeff Blair – TBD
My guess is they don’t have their leadoff hitter on the roster yet.