Having strong depth at each position can be a crucial part to a team's success. Since front office cannot possibly expect every player to stay healthy, backups and minor league players can become very important.
This article will take a look at the Blue Jays' roster and depth at every position. Each position will be given a "Good", "Mediocre" or "Poor" rating to evaluate where the team stands. Possible upgrades will be suggested in the process.
Catcher: Dioner Navarro figures to be the backup, who seems to be a decent second-division starter. The question really comes down to whether or not Navarro is traded. With a salary of $5 million, it could be difficult to find Navarro enough playing time to obtain surplus value. If Navarro is traded, the Jays are left with Josh Thole or A.J Jimenez as plan B. Thole does have an 85 wrc+ against righties for his career, but has struggled quite a bit in recent years. A.J Jimenez appears to be strong defensively, but he was out-hit by Ryan Goins in AAA last season.
Rating: Good, at least for now. If Navarro is traded to create payroll flexibility, this rating could be changed to poor pretty quickly. Acquiring Tyler Flowers (in exchange for Navarro), or a Hector Sanchez/Chris Gimenez type may not be the worst idea if Navarro is in fact traded. I miss Erik Kratz.
First Base: A Justin Smoak/Danny Valencia platoon seems to be a decent cost-effective option at first base. From the left side, Smoak has been a league average MLB hitter for his career. Moving to a more homer-friendly park should be a better fit for his game, so some improvement could be expected. Danny Valencia should continue to crush left-handed pitching and provide solid value when he does play.
Daric Barton figures to be stashed in AAA as Plan B. Barton has been a league average hitter for his MLB career and is a very strong defender. Edwin Encarnacion figures to be the DH, but could always shift over to 1B if needed. The Jays may not have a superstar as their primary first baseman, but there does seem to be strong depth.
Rating: Good. The Jays should be fine at 1B even if injuries occur.
2B/SS/3B: These positions were grouped together as they all share similar "Plan B" options. From the left side of the infield, Reyes and Donaldson appear to be strong starters. Second base is the real issue, as the Jays seem to lack a quality starter.
Maicer's career numbers would play at second base, so if he is back to his old self the Jays could possibly find decent production. If Maicer does make the major league team, I would want a different option to be the backup shortstop. Ramon Santiago could fill that role, but only has a 76 wRC+ for his career.
Ryan Goins and Munenori Kawasaki appear to be on the outside looking in at this point. Devon Travis has strong minor league numbers, but huge question marks about his game. Counting on such an unknown probably isn't the greatest idea. I'm not sure if Steve Tolleson can play a decent shortstop, but he could provide a solid bat against left-handed pitching.
Rating: Poor. If Reyes or Donaldson miss significant time, the Jays could very well be left with two "black-holes" in their lineup. Signing Hector Olivera would be quite the upgrade, while a Cliff Pennington trade still appears to make a ton of sense. Without adding another quality option, the Jays could be in real rough shape if one of Reyes or Donaldson misses time.
Corner Outfield: The left-handed hitting Andy Dirks will likely be stashed in AAA as depth. Dirks has been around league average offensively for his career and provides solid defence. Kevin Pillar seems likely to provide strong offence against left handed pitching. Ezequiel Carrera and Dwight Smith Jr. could even see some time before the end of the year. Though they could probably use one more option, the team is in good hands with Dirks.
Centre Field: It appears the Jays will count on one of their top prospects in Dalton Pompey to man centre field. There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Pompey, but it is hard to forget he played the majority of 2014 in High-A ball. Though his speed and defence should provide value, it is probably a good idea to have a strong backup plan in place.
At this point, Kevin Pillar seems to be the Jays Plan B. Despite strong major league numbers, he has struggled against right handed pitching for his career. Unless he improves on his plate discipline, it would probably be tough for the Jays to count on him against right-handed pitching for long. Ezequiel Carrera is a left handed hitter who will likely start in Buffalo, but he has provided just 0.5 WAR in 176 career games.
Rating: Mediocre. I'd like to see the Jays add depth here. Trading for Jarod Dyson, Aaron Hicks or Cameron Maybin would be a strong idea. Even signing Tony Gwynn Jr. to a minor league contract could help. If no depth is added, there will be a lot of pressure on Pompey and Pillar to produce.
Starting Pitcher: Four of the Jays top five starters from 2014 figure to return. Marco Estrada seems to be the odds on favourite for the fifth spot, while Daniel Norris likely provides strong depth in AAA to start the season. I would like to see the Jays add a seventh starter, as it would be tough to stretch out Aaron Sanchez on short notice (if he is in fact a reliever). I do not see Jeff Francis, Liam Hendriks and Todd Redmond as terrific options, while I view Chad Jenkins as a reliever at this point.
If the price is right, why not target Carlos Villanueva? The former Jay has had quite a bit of success in the bullpen since leaving the Jays, and he could start if needed. If Estrada struggles and Norris isn't deemed "MLB ready", the Jays no longer have Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin to fill in.
Bullpen: Whether it is Francisco Rodriguez or Rafael Soriano, the Jays bullpen could use another high-leverage reliever. The Jays are strong from the left-side with Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup and potentially Rob Rasmussen. Todd Redmond and Chad Jenkins could be long-relievers, but beyond Aaron Sanchez the Jays could use another high-leverage righty. The minor league depth is there, but an injury to one of their few high-leverage relievers would be a major issue.
Rating: Poor, at least for now. Signing K-Rod or Soriano would move everyone down a peg and suddenly the depth would be very good. There is just too much riding on Cecil and Sanchez right now in my opinion.