Travis making his case to head north with Jays

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos joins Barry Davis to talk about the bullpen, the infield and dominos.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – The young, big, strong arms of Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro were once again on display as the 20 year-olds’ utterly ridiculous springs continued in the Toronto Blue Jays’ win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

Not to be ignored was another perfect inning of relief from lefty Colt Hynes. The 29 year-old sidewinder, claimed on waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers last August, has had an incredible spring as he bids to join Aaron Loup as the second lefty behind newly-minted closer Brett Cecil.

In seven appearances, Hynes has pitched a total of 6.2 innings and has allowed just one baserunner. He gave up a ground-ball single up the middle to Henry Urrutia in the Blue Jays’ March 13 win over the Baltimore Orioles, and that’s it. He’s been otherwise perfect – no walks and six strikeouts.

Hynes has flown almost completely under the radar this spring, to everyone but John Gibbons and the Blue Jays front office. He has put himself in an excellent position to go north with the big club.

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Devon Travis has done the same thing as Hynes. He hasn’t had a perfect spring by any means, but with a double in two trips in Sunday’s victory, the Blue Jays second baseman-of-maybe-the-present improved to 14-for-27 since starting out the spring hitless in his first 11 trips to the plate.

For those of you who enjoy a good slash line, that works out to .519/.567/.741. That’s pretty terrific.

Injuries to Maicer Izturis (groin strain) and Ramon Santiago (broken collarbone) have been unfortunate, to be sure, but they’ve also helped clear up the picture for the Blue Jays as far as second base is concerned. Three players remain in competition with Travis for the starting gig: Ryan Goins, Munenori Kawasaki and Steve Tolleson.

The truth is, though, that neither Kawasaki nor Tolleson is an option to be a regular second baseman – Kawasaki is a fine big-leaguer in short bursts, but the longer he’s in the lineup the more he gets exposed. Tolleson beats up on left-handed pitching, which is lovely and useful but not ideal for an everyday player.

That leaves Travis, whose bat appears to be big-league ready and who hasn’t looked out of place with the glove, and Goins, whose defence is otherworldly but about whom there are obvious offensive concerns.

Goins, to his credit, is having a heck of a spring offensively, hitting .323/.400/.516 in 35 plate appearances. The fact that he’s walking in one out of every nine trips is what jumps out to me. He’s also been having good at-bats and hitting the ball hard, with a double, a triple and a home run so far.

So here lies the conundrum: If Goins is the starter, Tolleson has to make the team as the backup. Goins needs platoon support against left-handed pitching and Tolleson provides that. Goins starting means Travis begins his season in Buffalo, because he’s not making the team if he’s not the everyday guy.

If Travis is the starter, Tolleson is likely lost to the waiver wire because neither Travis nor Tolleson can play a good enough shortstop to give Jose Reyes a breather or jump in an emergency for a few days. If Travis is the starter, then Goins has to make the team as the utility infielder who would get some spot starts here and there. This would mean that Goins wouldn’t be getting regular at-bats, and his chance to be a big-league starter in Toronto would have gone by the wayside – for now, anyway.

Tolleson is the only one of the remaining candidates who is out of options, everyone else can be shuffled off to Buffalo without worrying about waivers.

During the Alex Anthopoulos regime, the Blue Jays have been very conscious of asset retention when making roster decisions like this, and it will be interesting to see how this decision is made. Does Travis make the team, even though it likely means losing Tolleson? Or do the Blue Jays go with a Goins/Tolleson combo in order to retain the asset? There’s an added bonus to that approach, as well.

Starting Travis off in Buffalo – even just for a couple of weeks – means the Blue Jays would control him for an extra year since he wouldn’t reach six years of Major League service (assuming he never goes back down once he’s called up) until after the 2021 season, which will be here before you know it.

There is a way around the whole waiver thing, though. If Michael Saunders can’t answer the bell for opening day, there exists the possibility that Tolleson could take his place on the roster, serving as a super-utility infielder/outfielder. He did play that role on occasion last season, and he has been seeing some time in the outfield over the last week of Grapefruit League games. In that scenario, Kevin Pillar would be the left fielder (and back-up centre fielder) until Saunders is healthy.

The most dangerous time to put a major-league quality player on waivers is before the regular season begins, when rosters aren’t set and teams haven’t yet made their decisions. If Tolleson hangs around as the fourth outfielder/sixth infielder for a week until Saunders is ready, the chances that he gets snapped up on waivers decrease greatly. With the other non-starting outfield combatants (Ezequiel Carrera, Caleb Gindl, Dayan Viciedo) all on minor-league contracts, there’s no risk to them not making the team.

Anthopoulos and Gibbons have said many times it’s about taking the best 25 players north. There’s no question that the best team includes Ryan Goins, for his glove alone, but after the last two weeks there’s certainly an argument to be made that the best 25 includes Devon Travis, as well. And a bottom third of Justin Smoak, Dalton Pompey and Travis has some pretty serious offensive upside to it.

Blue Jay watchers know that the major-league roster is a fluid thing. The group that opens the season in the Bronx could be different from the group that opens the home schedule a week later at Rogers Centre. If things keep going the way they are, though, it’s hard to see that group not including both Ryan Goins and Devon Travis.

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