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March 28, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Strong Side, Weak Side

by Daniel Rathman

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Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos spent the early part of the offseason shuffling pitchers onto and off of his 40-man roster through minor trades and waiver claims. Amid the scrounging effort, during which it seemed as though no pitcher could hit the wire without being claimed by the Jays, Anthopoulos acquired Jeremy Jeffress from the Royals for cash considerations on November 8. Now, in order to retain Jeffress, Anthopoulos could leave first-year manager John Gibbons with a suboptimal roster.

Blue Jays to open season with three-man bench
Since Jeffress, a former top-100 prospect, onetime Zack Greinke trade piece (Brewers to Royals), and three-time Drug Prevention and Treatment Program violator, is out of options, the Jays had two choices: carrying him on the active roster or exposing him to waivers. According to MLB.com beat writer Gregor Chisholm, who spoke with Gibbons on Wednesday, they chose the former, putting 13 pitchers on their 25-man squad.

The Blue Jays’ predicament becomes obvious with only a glance at Jason Martinez’s depth chart, which is now available on the Baseball Prospectus site. “Out of options” is a recurring theme for Gibbons’ eight-man relief crew, as Sergio Santos, Esmil Rogers, Aaron Loup, and Brett Cecil all could not have been demoted to the minors without first passing through waivers. Anthopoulos deemed each of them too valuable to expose to his 29 counterparts, even though his quick-fix attempt to bring Toronto back into contention this year could make every roster spot critical.

Now, Gibbons will be forced to wade through at least the early part of the season with only Henry Blanco, Rajai Davis, and Mark DeRosa on his bench. The 41-year-old Blanco beat former Mets starter Josh Thole for the backup job behind J.P. Arencibia, resulting in Thole’s demotion to Triple-A. Davis, who owns a .249 career TAv in 2,280 major-league plate appearances, has the speed to adeptly handle all three outfield positions and serve as a quality pinch-runner, but he isn’t much of a pinch-hitter. And DeRosa, whose left wrist is hanging by a thread after two surgeries and nearly 300 days on the disabled list over the last three years, has hit one major-league home run since September 21, 2009, when he smacked two in one game.

Emilio Bonifacio’s versatility mitigates the overall weakness of the group, and Gibbons will be able to deploy the speedster in a utility role once Brett Lawrie resumes the everyday duties at third base. But even when the roster is at full strength, the Blue Jays will still have one of the shallowest position-player pools in the league, while facing multiple potential injury question marks, from Jose Reyes’ durability on the Rogers Centre turf to the health of Jose Bautista’s wrist after September surgery.

Had Anthopoulos chosen to part ways with one of the out-of-options relievers, the bench could have included one of the hitters now set to begin the year in Triple-A Buffalo. The list of candidates for the fourth-reserve role: Lars Anderson, Ryan Goins (one of Jason ParksFactors on the Farm), Anthony Gose, Ryan Langerhans, Andy LaRoche, Mike McCoy, and Moises Sierra.

In the team’s defense, none of those players had the résumé to make a slam-dunk case for inclusion on the Opening Day roster, especially if the Jays felt strongly about all four of the aforementioned pitchers. On the other hand, PECOTA’s pre-season playoff odds suggest that a win or two could make all the difference for Toronto this year, and Anthopoulos’ decision to skimp on position-player depth means that one key injury could make its 2013 hopes go up in smoke.

Eric Hosmer expected to play right field on Thursday
The Royals will be one of the first teams to experience the new interleague-play format, as their schedule calls for a three-day jaunt to Philadelphia on April 5-7. Since those games will be played in a National League park, manager Ned Yost won’t enjoy the benefit of a designated hitter, which means in order to keep Billy Butler’s bat in the lineup, he will need to use him at first base.

That leaves Yost with two choices: benching his regular first baseman, Hosmer, or moving him to right field, which is currently occupied by Jeff Francoeur. The 23-year-old Hosmer made three appearances (two starts) in right field in 2012, and Yost told Kansas City Star beat writer Bob Dutton on Wednesday that he intends to keep that avenue open again this year.

To do so, Hosmer will trade his first-baseman’s mitt in for an outfielder’s glove tomorrow, when the Royals take on the Reds in their penultimate Cactus League contest. ESPN’s Keith Law tweeted back in December that he believes Hosmer—thanks to his athleticism and plus arm—could be an adequate defender in right, and Kevin Goldstein pointed out in his 2011 look at the Royals’ farm system that some evaluators wanted to try him in left.

Francoeur (-21.1 career FRAA) is no gazelle in the outfield, either, so Kansas City wouldn’t see much of a defensive downgrade from implementing the revised arrangement in its nine senior-circuit-hosted games. And if Yost is unwilling to commit to the plan in all of them, he could employ a temporary platoon, in which Butler and Francoeur would play against left-handed starters and Hosmer would supplant the latter versus righties. The third member of the group could then give Yost a powerful late-inning pinch hitter, offering the Royals a luxury that many of their American League rivals do not enjoy.  

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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