NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – For almost the entirety of his second tour of duty with the Toronto Blue Jays, manager John Gibbons has been able to walk into his office every day and fill out a lineup card that has had Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in the middle of it.
That’s no longer the case.
Though neither Bautista nor Encarnacion has yet found a home in free agency this winter, both are expected to become former Blue Jays sooner than later, and Gibbons will have to figure out how to put together a winning lineup without them.
Meeting with the media via conference call from his home in San Antonio as he deals with the flu, Gibbons shared some of his thoughts on how the batting order might look when the Blue Jays open up in Baltimore on April 3.
The Blue Jays’ major target at the moment appears to be Dexter Fowler, a free-agent outfielder coming off a .276/.393/.447 season at the top of the lineup for the World Series champion Chicago Cubs. The switch-hitter, who will be 31 come opening day, has a career on-base percentage of .366 and was an all-star for the first time this past season.
By all accounts, the Jays and St. Louis Cardinals are the last two suitors for Fowler’s services, and should the Blue Jays wind up getting him under contract, he would go right to the top of the lineup.
"A guy like Fowler, that’d be his role," said Gibbons. "It’s something he’s accustomed to."
And without an embarrassment of riches in the middle of the order, Gibbons might be inclined to write out a more traditional lineup, with Josh Donaldson moving down into the third spot and Devon Travis hitting second.
"That’s definitely a good thought," said Gibbons. "Hopefully Devon can stay healthy and he comes back strong. I think he proved to all of us that he’s a really good hitter and he should be an ideal two-hole type hitter."
Travis, who has played only 163 regular-season games over his first two full seasons in the big leagues because of shoulder issues, should be recovered from off-season knee surgery in time to participate fully in spring training.
The 25-year-old was the Blue Jays’ only .300 hitter in 2016, and is a career .301/.342/.469 hitter with 19 home runs and 46 doubles in those 163 games.
Gibbons doesn’t think a move down in the order would do Donaldson any harm. "Josh really settled into the two-spot," said the skipper. "(He) won an MVP and was in consideration for another one this year (finishing fourth), so he’s thrived there, but you could put him anywhere."
It’s certainly weaker than a lineup that contains Encarnacion and Bautista, but that’s still a threatening top five.