Blue Jays final roster decisions contain real headscratchers

Nick Ashbourne
Melvin Uptor Jr. was among a few odd final cuts by the Toronto Blue Jays. (Chris Young/CP)

The Toronto Blue Jays will open the season with a strong 25-man roster, but whether it’s their best is very much up for debate.

For one, the Toronto will begin its 2017 campaign shorthanded at the back of the bullpen as Roberto Osuna will be starting the season on the 10-day disabled list per Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi.

Osuna is reportedly dealing with a “cervical spasm” and in the meantime the Blue Jays will have Dominic Leone – who was one of their top spring performers – fill his spot. It’s not a move that anyone around the team would like to see, but its one made out of necessity and should Osuna make a prompt recovery there aren’t season-long implications.

The same can’t be said for the other two decisions the Blue Jays decided to make at the fringe of their roster. Their first move was to release Melvin Upton Jr. in favour of holding on to Ryan Goins.

If one was simply comparing the two players without context the move is defensible – both players are handy bench pieces. In the context of the Blue Jays roster its puzzling to say the least.

Goins is a major-league calibre utility infielder who is better than average defensively in that role, and likely worse than average offensively. There is room on plenty of benches for a guy like Goins.

That said, speaking of guys like Goins, the Blue Jays already have one in the form of Darwin Barney, who is better offensively and a Gold Glove winner not appreciably worse with the leather – if at all. On a four-man American League bench it’s far from ideal to have a duplication of skills. As it stands, half the Blue Jays bench is devoted to glove-first middle infielders who aren’t especially useful pinch hitting or pinch running.

Upton would have given manager John Gibbons more options. Despite his rough stint with the Blue Jays in 2016, he was a proven commodity as a platoon outfielder who could be a pinch hitter, runner, or defensive replacement depending on the situation. On a club navigating a dense fog of outfield uncertainty, he didn’t seem like the piece to cut loose.

There’s a solid chance the Blue Jays are playing to protect Goins here and will ultimately sneak him through waivers at a safer date to bring another outfielder into the fold. Now, how much protecting a player with a 0.3 WAR over 938 career plate appearances is worth is a question worth asking. As is how easy it will be to find an outfielder better than Upton in the sea of Sunday’s cuts.

Odd decision No. 2 for the Blue Jays came in the bullpen where they kept Ryan Tepera over Mike Bolsinger. Once again, in a vacuum there’s an argument to be made that Tepera is better than Bolsinger. He throws harder, he’s got a cutter that lefties have had difficulties with in the past, and he can provide similar length as a reliever. However, once again context is crucial.

Leaving Bolsinger off the team resulted in him being designated for assignment because he was out of options. It doesn’t seem like the best idea for a squad with known starting depth issues to jettison a guy who pitched 109.1 innings of 3.62 ERA ball in the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation as recently as 2015.

If they’d opened with Bolsinger, the Blue Jays could have retained Tepera at Triple-A. Even if the team felt that Tepera was a better option in the pen – a totally reasonable position to take – it’s hard to see what they would have lost by holding onto Bolsinger for a week or two, when then could have tried to get him through waivers as rosters became more crystalized.

None of the moves made Sunday will mean total ruin for the Blue Jays in 2017, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a little peculiar. There may well be transactions to come that make the club’s roster coalesce in a more logical way – but for now it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.