As the Toronto Blue Jays look to build their 2018 roster, the middle infield is one of the most difficult position groups to shape.
Theoretically speaking they have two starters in Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis, plus a utility man in Ryan Goins. That should be enough to get you through the season. However, in the Blue Jays’ case its not so simple. Both Tulowitzki and Travis have had significant injuries in recent years and they simply can’t be relied on to turn in full, healthy, seasons.
Goins is fine as a backup, but despite his inexplicable run of clutch hitting in 2017, he’s not a player you want starting for an extended period of time. So, the Blue Jays find themselves in the position of wanting players who aren’t necessarily starters, and instead look like very high-end backups who could be useful if the Tulowitzki-and-Travis combo somehow stays healthy.
Here are some guys who fit that profile:
The 2017 Breakout: Eric Sogard
Positions: Second base, shortstop, and a little third base
2017 stats: .273/.393/.378, 3 HR, 18 RBI, 1.1 WAR in 299 PA
How it works: Sogard is a little hard to trust because he was so much better offensively last year than he’d ever been before. However, the skill that stood out – a newfound patience at the dish – is notoriously hard to fake. He may not replicate a .393 OBP, but if he brings back his 2017 approach he’s likely to have a healthy walk rate again, which will keep him productive.
Defensively, Sogard is more of a second baseman, which makes him Travis-insurance first, but he can certainly play short in spurts if necessary. He’s no star defensively at either position, but he’s capable presence up the middle who’s not a black hole in the lineup. That’s better than what the Blue Jays had this season.
The Offence-First Option: Howie Kendrick
Positions: Left field, second base, first Base
2017 stats: .315/.368/.475, 9 HR, 41 RBI, 12 SB, 1.6 WAR in 334 PA
How it works: Kendrick is no spring chicken, but he can play at two of the Blue Jays’ greatest positions of need. The veteran right-handed hitter can still knock line drives with the best of them, and although last year’s line was inflated by a .378 BABIP, his career mark is .340. He doesn’t pop out, he strikes out at a league-average rate, and he fills the gaps.
Things get a little dicier on the defensive side of the ball where he’s in decline and not improving at this point. He’s also been more of an outfielder than a second baseman lately. With the Blue Jays, he could be Travis insurance, and another outfielder with the odd trip to the dish as a pinch hitter. There probably wouldn’t be a shortage of at-bats for Kendrick, however things shook out, but the Blue Jays might not have faith in him to fill in at second for a longer stretch. He’s also likely to be a little pricier than the club might like.
The Swiss Army Knife: Eduardo Nunez
Positions: Everything but centre field, catcher, and first base
2017 stats: .313/.341/.460, 12 HR, 58 RBI, 24 SB, 2.2 WAR in 491 PA
How it works: There’s really not a lot that Nunez can’t do. He plays a tonne of positions, he hits for a little power, and he’s a surprising good base stealer who’s nabbed 64 bags in the last two years. Historically, he was an absolutely awful defensive shortstop for the Yankees, but he played 51 games at the position earning a slightly-positive UZR as recently as 2015.
If Tulowitzki went down, Nunez probably isn’t the best option longer-term at short, but he’s competent at second and third and in the outfield. His versatility gives him an opportunity to accumulate at-bats regardless of where the injuries strike for the Blue Jays.
The issues with Nunez is that because he can be fit onto so many rosters, there will likely be some healthy bidding for his services. He also had some knee troubles down the stretch with the Boston Red Sox in 2017 that adds an element of risk.
The Aging Legend: Chase Utley
Positions: Second base and a touch of first base
2017 stats: .236/.324/.405, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 6 SB, 1.3 WAR in 357 PA
How it works: Utley is well past his prime, but his prime was so impressive that he’s still a useful player. He lacks positional versatility, but he’s still competent at the plate, on the bases and in the field.
He would probably need to be convinced the Blue Jays were a contender worthy of perhaps his final year, which might be an uphill battle. There’s also a risk that even if you get him he breaks down. That said, if Travis is out for an extended period it’s hard to imagine a steadier hand than Utley. If Travis were to stay healthy, he could be a solid clubhouse resource, a trusted backup, and a nifty left-handed bat of the bench.
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