Editorials

Roster Cuts: Notables and Takeaways, Super Early Edition

Marco Estrada

It’s never too early to dissect the roster, right?

There’s plenty to be said about not reading too much into things after just one game, but that doesn’t mean exceptions to the rule can’t exist. And given the storylines surrounding this club, most are worth tracking even when there’s just a hint of which direction they might take. Besides, regardless of the time and date, isn’t playing the role of GM/scout/smart-ass (while being objective, of course) half the fun?

Now that we’re on the same page, let’s expand on a few notables from opening day: 

Marco Estrada:

He was worthy of getting the call and continues to dispel the notion that his “finesse-filled” repertoire won’t hold up for much longer. I mean, that shouldn’t come as a surprise to Jays fans, but what does Estrada have to do to get more league-wide appreaciation? Normally, that shouldn’t matter much as a Blue Jay flying under the mainstream’s radar is just the nature of the beast, but when you come off a year with the third lowest opponents batting average (.203), perform well in the postseason in back to back years, sport a WHIP below 1.12 in four of the last five seasons, and average 158 strikeouts in 177 innings over a nine-year span, consistency should make more noise.

This one’s a three-parter:

A) When he was first acquired, Jason Grilli’s impact on this squad spread far and wide. However, the wheels did fall off during last season’s stretch run and into the postseason. His September/October numbers: 9.64 ERA, 2.04 WHIP, 8.61 FIP, .293 batting average against, 1.171 opponents OPS, and a 3.86 HR/9… Well, while that month and a half’s work is forgiveable, he sure didn’t waste anytime time padding that home run stat when he hung Monday’s slider to Mark Trumbo with the count 1-and-2. Sure, the year is young, but for now the downward trend continues.

B) With the stated above, let’s all be thankful that the rumblings of Joe Biagini being stretched out to once again become a starter didn’t come to fruition. Especially since Roberto Osuna’s back injury could very well flare up again when he comes back (knock on wood). But even in the short term with Osuna on the shelf, a few more slip-ups from Grilli will likely result in Gibbons tweaking the bullpen’s pecking order.

C) For argument’s sake, the book on Biagini joining the rotation at some point shouldn’t be seen as shut. If an injury were to occur, the Jays’ lack of options would be exposed. And if this team is in contention by the time the trade deadline rolls around, it’s only logical to think they’d deal from a strength (depth shouldn’t matter at that point) to address a weakness. In either case, Biagini’s name might be called.

Newcomers: 

If you include Toronto, J.P. Howell and Joe Smith’s combined services spread across nine teams. On the surface, the fact that they’ve bounced around is cause for concern. Not to mention how a southpaw (Howell) allowed lefty swingers to post a .299 batting average against him last season. Still, despite their journeymen status, they come with notable numbers in specific areas: Howell with a career 8.3 K/9, Smith with a career 56.0 ground ball percentage, and both with a somewhat trust-worthy habit of keeping the ball in the park.

Bottom line: The more these two get to pitch as situational specialists the better. The Jays own above average starters from top to bottom, so they won’t necessarily be following Baseball’s growing trend of relying heavily on the bullpen anytime soon. So far so good, though, even after both made their first appearance in a Blue Jays’ uniform in a high-pressure spot on the road. Particularly Howell, as there’s nothing like making your debut against a guy (Chris Davis) who’s hit the most home runs over the last five years with the game tied in the bottom of the 8th.

Jose Bautista:

If you happened to skip the WBC, you missed out on some serious entertainment; the enthusiasm was electric. More importantly, though, Joey Bats gave us a sneak preview of what he had in store for Baltimore. Either way, let’s relive that throwing arm we all thought was gone for good:

When that cannon reappeared at Camden Yards, just in time to gun down Chris Davis going for two, one couldn’t help but wonder if Bautista’s rejuvenation on defence was officially a thing. But when that was followed up by Jose robbing Joey Rickard with diving catch on a sinking liner in the 9th, it’s safe to say he’s currently a new man. Question is: Will it last?Better yet: Will it go as far as silencing the notion of him eventually factoring in at first base? Well, about that:

Who’s on First?

As one browses the pages of Fangraphs, you notice that Pearce has a 178 or better wRC+ vs. southpaws in two of the last three years. But since a lefty wasn’t on the mound, take your pick as to the possible reasons why Steve Pearce was given first crack at the not-so hot corner:

This one’s a four-parter:

Possibility A: The master plan is for Pearce to get the majority of playing time in left field. But with Marco Estrada’s fly ball tendencies, the moment called for a more experienced outfielder with speed (Ezequiel Carrera). That would also mean Justin Smoak is in line for an everyday role. On that note, we should probably check out what’s behind door no.2.

Possibility B: Pearce is actually the odd man out when it comes to regular action, Gibbons just gave the nod to a vet facing his former club. That’s an interesting angle but I’m not exactly buying what that’s selling.

Possibility C: Shapiro, Atkins and Gibbons have all come to their senses and realize that the separation between Smoak and Pearce’s defence isn’t enough to warrant even a straight up platoon. Fingers crossed.

Possibility D: It all really depends on matchups. Also known as: This cluster you-know-what will remain a cluster you-know-what as long as Smoak is in the fold. A team stubbornly trying a justify a contract extension is an unfortunate reality we all must deal with.

Still, even though the smart money’s on D, the fact that Pearce passed his first eye test with flying colors hopefully means Gibbons will give the hot hand an opportunity to stay that way. Watching Edwin go deep in his Indians debut was painful enough.

FYI: The Buffalo Bisons’ season starts tomorrow: #RowdyWatch

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