Saturday, November 27, 2010

Blue Jays Infield Options

The 2010 edition of the Toronto Blue Jays saw many struggles for the infielders on the team. Despite the fact that they received at least 20 home runs from each of the regulars, (Lyle Overbay with 20, Aaron Hill with 26, Edwin Encarnacion with 21, and Alex Gonzalez and Yunel Escobar combined for 21), Escobar was the only one to finish the season with a respectable slash line of .275/.340/.356 during his time with the Jays.

Escobar will return to the Jays for the 2011 season as the shortstop, while Hill will look to rebound from a 2010 in which he hit just .205/.271/.394. However, it is not yet clear which side of the infield Hill will find himself on when Opening Day rolls around. He has spent time at three of the four infield positions during his Major League career, and some believe he would have made the move to third base had the team successfully acquired Dan Uggla earlier this off-season. Keeping in mind that Hill can play either second or third, the Jays will need to go out and fill at least one of those holes.

As far as first base goes, Adam Lind logged 76 innings at the position this season and although he made no errors, he often looked out of place. With his lengthy contract extension and the current outfield situation that faces the Jays (Wells, Snider, Bautista, Lewis and Davis for 3 spots), it makes sense for the Jays to try Lind at first base in 2011 instead of going out and acquiring somebody new to man the position.

Knowing that first base and shortstop are taken care of, and that Hill will play either second or third this season, I have decided to compile a list of five players who I think the Blue Jays could realistically have fill the vacancy.

Brad Emaus, Las Vegas 51s
Emaus, 24, would be the most affordable option. He has never seen any time in the Majors so his service time clock is still at zero, and he spent time at both second and third base during the 2010 season although he is probably better suited for third due to his strong throwing arm. In 125 games at the AA and AAA levels last year, Emaus hit a combined .290/.397/.496 while mashing 15 homers and stealing 13 bases. While not currently on the Jays’ 40-man roster, I see Emaus as a good candidate to play the hot corner for the 2011 Blue Jays or at least be a good bench player.

Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
Gordon, 26, has struggled offensively during his time in the Majors. Through parts of four seasons with the Royals, Gordon has hit .244/.328/.405 while spending most of his time at third base. The Royals moved him to the outfield this season, but that does not mean he could not make a return to the infield if acquired by the Blue Jays. Mike Moustakas made it all the way to Triple-A this year, and could challenge for the starting third baseman job for the Royals in 2011, making Gordon somewhat expendable. He would likely cost the Jays a couple of minor league arms to obtain, but if he can finally match his 2010 minor league numbers through 75 games (.310/.451/.567), any deal the Jays can make would be worth it.

Orlando Hudson, Free Agent
Hudson, 32, is the oldest player of the bunch that I will recommend for the Jays. He is a Type-B free agent who was offered arbitration, but the Jays would not lose a draft pick by signing him. In 2010, Hudson hit .268/.338/.372 for the Twins while making just 8 errors in the field. Signing Hudson would bring him back to Toronto, a team he was with from 2002-2005, and would cause Hill to move to third base. Hudson could provide Gold Glove-calibre defence in the field and be a great option for the second spot in the batting order. He has signed late in the off-season the past two years, but the Jays could likely get him for less than what they paid Overbay last season if the O-Dogg is willing to make a return to Toronto.

Gordon Beckham, Chicago White Sox
Beckham, 23, has already been mentioned in trade rumours this off-season. According to Yahoo’s Tim Brown, many clubs expect the White Sox to listen to offers for him. Acquiring Beckham would give the Blue Jays another good, young option for the infield. Although he took a step back in his sophomore campaign by posting numbers of .252/.317/.378, Beckham could easily rebound from that. Like Hill, Beckham also came up as a shortstop and has Major League experience at both second and third base, so it is unclear as to where he would play if the Jays acquired him. I would think that the team would stick with Hill at second and move Beckham to third.

Brett Lawrie, Milwaukee Brewers
Lawrie, 20, was ranked the as the #59 prospect by Baseball America heading into the 2010 season. Drafted as a catcher, Lawrie has made the move to second base and is thriving in the minors. This past season, he hit .285/.346/.451 with 30 stolen bases for the Double-A Hunstville Stars, a minor league affiliate for the Milwaukee Brewers. One could argue that it would be more realistic for the Brewers to trade Rickie Weeks, a player who crushed a career-high 29 home runs this season, but if the Brewers hang onto Prince Fielder it is clear that they will be making a playoff push this season. One thing that is important for a team hoping to make the playoffs is starting pitching, something the Brewers lack and something the Jays have an abundance of. The Jays could potentially deal one of their arms for a future second baseman. Lawrie may not be ready for the Majors yet, but he could prove me wrong in Spring Training. Making a trade for Lawrie would be a smart move for the Jays, but it would also need to be accompanied by another move such as signing Hudson or giving Emaus a shot at the Major League level.

These are just five options for the Blue Jays, who certainly have many more. But I see them all as realistic targets for a team looking to reach the post-season for the first time since 1993.