TORONTO – Cruel as it seems, the Toronto Blue Jays actually did Nori Aoki a favour Monday by starting their 40-man roster housekeeping early and designating the Japanese outfielder for assignment.
In short order Aoki will be released, allowing him to potentially sign with a contending team before the Sept. 1 cutoff for post-season eligibility, costing only a pro-rated portion of the league minimum. He now has a chance to enjoy a much more meaningful September than he would have had in Toronto.
As for the Blue Jays, the move sets the stage for the arrival of Teoscar Hernandez, the prime return from the Houston Astros in the Francisco Liriano deal. Hernandez was acquired along with Aoki.
Hernandez will be one of several callups when rosters expand in September and he’ll get some playing time as a way to assess what he may be able to contribute in 2018. Michael Saunders, who signed a minor-league deal June 28, is also expected to join the club while a third outfielder, Anthony Alford, is also under consideration.
Rob Refsnyder may also get a game or two in the outfield next month, which would have made Aoki, whom the Blue Jays had to take from Houston to get Hernandez and would have been non-tendered after the season, even more redundant.
Still, there are more moves to come, with the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster at 38 and Brett Anderson due to take one of those spots Tuesday when his contract will be selected to start against the Boston Red Sox.
Reliever Carlos Ramirez, starters Conner Greene, Francisco Rios and Jordan Romano, catchers Max Pentecost, Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire and first baseman Rowdy Tellez are among the players the Blue Jays must add to the 40-man roster after the season to avoid exposing them to the Rule 5 draft.
Ramirez, a converted outfielder who hasn’t allowed an earned run in 35.2 innings with 41 strikeouts over 24 games at double-A New Hampshire and triple-A Buffalo, is sure to get a look in September as the Blue Jays try to get a read on whether he may factor next year.
As for the others, only Jansen is really knocking on the big-league door and the Blue Jays could decide to wait until the fall to add him to the 40-man roster, once more spots have been vacated by the club’s pending free agents.
“Everything factors into our decision-making process. When we can gather information in any possible way we will look to do that,” general manager Ross Atkins said of how the club weighs whether to give a player a September callup. “But mostly what we’re thinking about is putting guys into positions to succeed and putting guys in position to help our team win.”
Left-hander Ryan Borucki, dominating at double-A since his promotion last month, is already on the 40-man and could get a look, although opinion seems split over whether to start his service-time clock. Catcher Luke Maile, currently on rehab assignment, is sure to be activated once rosters expand while Nick Tepesch could also return in September.
The looming 40-man roster crunch will only be further complicated after the season once the Blue Jays must also reinstate Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis, Dalton Pompey, Darrell Ceciliani and Bo Schultz from the 60-day disabled list.
Aoki’s DFA was just the beginning of the roster reshaping to come.