Blue Jays’ Diaz hopes trade to Toronto leads to regular playing time

By any measure, Aledmys Diaz‘s 2017 season was a tough one. He began the year in an extended slump, lost his big-league roster spot by mid-season and continued struggling offensively at triple-A.

As he says, “Everything went wrong last year.”

Just as importantly, with Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter firmly entrenched as starters on the St. Louis infield, there was no clear role for Diaz going forward. So when he spoke with Cardinals decision makers after the season, Diaz made it clear that he’d welcome a trade.

“I just wanted to go to a place where I’d have the chance to play more,” he said at Blue Jays Winter Fest. “That was one thing I told them as soon as I finished the season. (If) they’re not going to give me the opportunity to play every day next season, it’s better for me to be traded.”

Diaz got his wish when the Cardinals dealt him to Toronto for outfield prospect J.B. Woodman in December. He’s now looking forward to playing for the Blue Jays, eager to rediscover the promise he showed as a rookie. But playing time at the big-league level isn’t a given in Toronto, which complicates his path back to relevance.

The Cardinals initially signed Diaz in March of 2014 at which point he expected to spend his entire career in St. Louis. After an all-star rookie season in which he hit .300 with an .879 OPS and 3.5 wins above replacement, the Cardinals were surely hoping he would.

Instead, he made worse contact, made less contact, hit for less power and drew fewer walks. By the end of June, the Cardinals had seen enough. They demoted him to triple-A and started playing him at second and third more often, but even at Memphis he struggled at the plate, slashing just .253/.305/.388 in 46 games.

xwOBA Average Exit Velocity BB% K% Swing & Miss %
2016 0.322 88.8 mph 8.9 13 7.4
2017 0.263 84.9 mph 4.3 14 10.7

“I think that second season is tough for everybody,” Diaz said. “The pitchers start making adjustments. It was a tough second year.”

He returned as a September call-up, but appeared in just eight games down the stretch. To cap off a dismal season, he exited the final game of the year early with a left hamstring strain.

“It was a tough year, but at the same time I learned,” Diaz said. “Hopefully in a new organization I’ll have the chance to play.”

That’s where it gets complicated. The Blue Jays say that second baseman Devon Travis and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki are progressing as anticipated in their rehab work. And even if there’s an injury, utility player Yangervis Solarte represents an equally versatile option who’s more established as a big-league producer.

“It makes our bench that much better,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of Diaz and Solarte. “It’ll be nice to look down the bench and see a little more firepower.”

Nice for Gibbons, but for Diaz it means there’s no guarantee of regular playing time—or even a roster spot. Teams now tend to roll with short benches, and the Blue Jays will need to carry Solarte, a backup catcher and their many outfielders. Diaz has a minor-league option remaining, so while he’ll most likely impact the 2018 Blue Jays for extended stretches, he could be asked to begin the year with triple-A Buffalo.

Regardless of where Diaz starts the season, he believes he can bounce back at the plate. He was disappointed by last year’s .290 on-base percentage and believes he’s capable of being “an OBP guy” against MLB pitching. Considering how poorly the Blue Jays’ bench hit last year, they’d surely welcome that development in 2018.

“I’m excited for the journey,” Diaz said.