Every week until opening day, Sportsnet’s Mike Wilner will take his best guess as to what the Toronto Blue Jays 25-man roster will look like when the season opens April 3rd. Here’s the fifth of five (or not) weekly thoughts on who Mike thinks will be heading north:
With exactly one week to go until opening day, this was supposed to be my final guess at how the roster is going to shake out. I figured the Blue Jays would reveal their starting 25 before they left for Montreal, as they traditionally have in the past, but it appears as though one positional decision, if not two, will not be made until after the club leaves sunny Florida, so I might do another one of these on Thursday or Friday.
One decision has been taken out of the Blue Jays hands as Bo Schultz, who is out of options and was pushing for the final spot in the bullpen, hasn’t pitched since March 17th because of what’s believed to be an elbow injury. As this column is being written, we don’t know exactly what the injury is, but we do know that Schultz is scheduled to see a doctor in New York. Elbow surgery’s considered likely, and he will definitely open the season on the disabled list.
Schultz’s injury, along with the one to Rule 5 pick Glenn Sparkman earlier in the spring (broken thumb), means that two of the three pitchers who the Blue Jays risked losing if they didn’t make the 25-man will neither be lost nor on the team to start the season.
That would seem to swing the door wide open for the third of those three pitchers, Mike Bolsinger, to make the club, and according to this week’s roster guess, it has.
Bolsinger, acquired from the Dodgers at last year’s trade deadline for Jesse Chavez but not called up in September, had a rough start to the spring, but has come around rather nicely in his last two outings. The righty got the start in Bradenton against the Pirates on March 19 and allowed just one batter to reach base in his first trip through the lineup. He didn’t issue a walk and struck out four. The second trip through began with Alen Hanson hitting a grounder to first. Bolsinger rolled his ankle going over to cover the bag, ending his day.
The injury wasn’t serious, though, and he was back on the mound March 25 against the Yankees, throwing three innings and allowing just a run on two hits, with a walk and three strikeouts.
Bolsinger doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, but he does keep the ball down and won’t walk people. He also has 36 major-league starts to his credit, and the Blue Jays would like some length out of the bullpen, since most of the relievers in it are “one and done” types.
Bolsinger making the team is bad news for Ryan Tepera, who thought he had made the team last year but was cut at the very last minute when the Jays signed Franklin (Money) Morales. Tepera has had an excellent spring, allowing two earned runs on six hits over 8.1 innings, with three walks and eight strikeouts, flashing 97 miles-per-hour heat. The Blue Jays know what the righty can do, and they like him, but it seems as though he’s going to be edged out by the perceived need for a long reliever and by the fact that he has options.
With the strength of the rotation, though, Bolsinger may sit in the bullpen for a couple of weeks without getting into a game, and the Jays may revisit their need for length in the relief corps.
As for non-pitchers, several questions were answered this week as Devon Travis got on the field and played in back-to-back games, Josh Donaldson played some third base, Jose Bautista shook off his stiff lower back and Steve Pearce made an appearance in the outfield. Everything went well, and while Pearce still has some work left to do on his throwing arm, Donaldson and Travis are all systems go.
As well, Ezequiel Carrera came back from a bruised thigh and Melvin Upton Jr. returned from a sore shoulder that had kept him out of action for a week and change. Ryan Goins did get drilled on the elbow in Sunday’s loss to the Orioles, but the ball mostly got his elbow pad, and he reported nothing more than a bit of soreness.
It appears as though the final spot on the roster comes down to Goins, a fan favourite, or Upton Jr., whose two months with the Blue Jays last season may have been the worst two months of his career. Neither of them have looked great this spring, with Goins hitting .188/.250/.354 and Upton Jr. not being any better at .192/.222/.346, but both players are known commodities.
When Goins is at his best, he’s playing incredible defence all over the field and really not contributing much offensively save for one month back in August of 2015. When Upton is at his best, he’s crushing lefties, stealing bases and playing quality defence in the outfield.
The question is, which serves the Blue Jays more? And it’s not an easy question to answer.
From this corner, Upton Jr., performing well, does more for the Jays than Goins does, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Pearce’s throwing arm and the fact that Pearce may have to move in to play first base if Justin Smoak doesn’t work out. The Blue Jays already have a better Goins in Darwin Barney and while it would be a great luxury to have two terrific backup infielders (both of whom can play the outfield in a pinch), it seems as though a good defensive outfielder who can also serve as a strong pair of legs off the bench late in a game would be more help than that second great utility guy.
Unfortunately, barring the unforeseen, that means the end of the road for Goins as a Blue Jay. He’s out of options and wouldn’t make it through waivers without being claimed, so if everyone stays healthy this final week of spring, it makes sense for the Jays to trade him rather than lose him for nothing.
Pitchers (12 active, 2 DL)
Marco Estrada (starts Game 1)
J.A. Happ (starts Game 2)
Francisco Liriano (starts Game 4)
Aaron Sanchez (starts Game 5)
Bo Schultz (disabled list)
Glenn Sparkman (disabled list)
Marcus Stroman (starts Game 3)
Melvin Upton Jr.