After much speculation, Melvin Upton Jr., a player lampooned for his lack of production in Toronto, has been released. The Jays are going to pay Upton $1M to not play for them. Instead, they are going to continue to employ Ryan Goins. At first glance, that seems like a bad business decision. However, below the surface, this decision actually makes a fair bit of sense.
A Crowded Outfield
Before today’s announcement, the Blue Jays had plenty of options to play in left field. The frontrunner was Steve Pearce, though the team would probably be better served to have him play first base (and subsequently force Justin Smoak to the bench). Then there was Upton, Ezequiel Carrera, and the newly-acquired Chris Coghlan. And this is without saying anything of Dalton Pompey, who is currently on the disabled list. Thus, the Jays had four main options vying for the left field job.
Earlier in the off-season, a platoon with Upton and Pearce made sense. Due to Justin Smoak‘s inability to hit left-handers, Pearce could have played a double platoon at first base and in left field, depending on the handedness of the opposing starter. Upton would then play left field when Smoak was on the bench, and would sit on the bench when Smoak was at first.
Instead, the addition of Coghlan made Upton redundant. Coghlan struggles against left-handers, but has had success against right-handers. He creates a more natural platoon for Pearce, should the Jays want to keep Smoak at first base. Moreover, if they decide to move Pearce to the infield, then Coghlan also complements Carrera’s reverse splits (which are admittedly based on a small sample). All told, Upton’s lack of production in Toronto, combined with the additions of Pearce and Coghlan, made him the odd man out in the left field mix.
A Thin Infield
The second part of this equation is Goins. While the competition in left field could have unfolded in several different ways, the middle infield has been more straightforward. Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis will be the regulars at second base and shortstop. Their combined injury history does provide some cause for concern.
Should one of Tulowitzki or Travis go down with injury, Darwin Barney will be the next man off the bench. The former Gold Glover had a decent year at the plate in 2016 – by his standards – as he posted a line of .269/.322/.373. There is little doubt that Barney provides more upside on offence than does Goins. The two are largely similar on defence, which leaves Barney as the preferred choice.
That said, it is not unrealistic to expect that the Jays might some day find themselves without both Tulowitzki and Travis. If that were to happen, then Goins could slot in alongside Barney. Looking at the organization’s other internal options, Goins is still a better bet than either Jonathan Diaz or Jake Elmore. He provides a safety net that the team could need in a pinch.
Of course, Goins might still find himself exposed to waivers as the season moves along. If the Jays decide to promote Coghlan, then they will need to make room for him on the 25-man roster. Carrera was never mentioned as a possible waiver candidate this spring, so it should be expected that he will be kept as the fourth outfielder (as an aside, Mark Shapiro gave Carrera a ringing endorsement, when he called him a “darling of the analytical world“). That would mean that Goins would once again face uncertainty. However, the Jays would be hopeful that they could sneak him through waivers once the season is underway.
Upton may have provided the Jays with some insurance in the outfield, but it was not necessary. They have a number of in-house options who can play as well as he can, if not better. With that in mind, they had to look to protect their infield as well. Goins provides more certainty than any of the other options available. That seems to have made the difference in this decision. It was not a matter of who could provide more between Upton or Goins, but rather who is a better fit given the broader context of the 25-man roster.