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Inbox: Will Panik's experience land him spot?

Beat reporter Keegan Matheson answers questions from Blue Jays fans
@KeeganMatheson
February 19, 2020

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays have survived the first week-plus of Spring Training relatively healthy, which is a fine start, and the roster battles are shifting into focus. With just a few days standing between now and first pitch of the Blue Jays’ Grapefruit League season, here are your

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays have survived the first week-plus of Spring Training relatively healthy, which is a fine start, and the roster battles are shifting into focus.

With just a few days standing between now and first pitch of the Blue Jays’ Grapefruit League season, here are your questions:

With all the sophomores around the infield is there a case for the Blue Jays adding Joe Panik to the roster purely because of his experience being on a pennant winning Giants team, and what he must’ve learned from Bruce Bochy, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford and could pass on now?
-- @sutton_1B

Panik has a legitimate shot at making this Blue Jays’ roster and, while the experience from his years in San Francisco will be a factor, it won’t be the only one.

A player in Panik’s position wouldn’t be fielding multi-year offers in free agency, but there would at least be interest from multiple teams on a Minor League deal. Money matters, and always will, but players signing Minor League deals also strongly consider the likelihood that they can crack the roster.

The one limitation facing Panik is that he’s played exclusively at second base (outside of one game at first) in the big leagues. His last professional appearance at shortstop came back in 2014 in Triple-A. Second base belongs to Cavan Biggio and the utility role likely belongs to Brandon Drury, but regardless, there’s an opening for Panik, who the front office likes. Keep an eye on where Panik lines up defensively this spring.

Which Blue Jay will have the biggest jump in WAR compared to last year? Is there a breakout player nobody is talking about yet? A pitcher?
-- Al P.

So many of the Blue Jays’ core players debuted partway through 2019, so their WAR totals (FanGraphs) might not be our best measurement here. Let’s use Bo Bichette for example, who was worth 1.7 WAR, or Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who was worth 0.4.

The young core is bound to see a breakthrough or two, but looking outside of them, Teoscar Hernandez’s name continues to come up in conversations. His defensive value in what’s expected to be right field is a major variable when it comes to his WAR, but if Hernandez can carry his second half of 2019 into '20, that’s a scary bat.

After Hernandez returned to the Blue Jays from Triple-A on June 5, he hit .248 with an .873 OPS and 23 home runs over 86 games. Over that same span, he ranked 16th out of 326 MLB hitters in average exit velocity at 92.1 MPH, according to Statcast (minimum 100 balls put in play).

Do you foresee any last-minute or early season trades like we had last year with Kendrys Morales and Kevin Pillar?
-- @macmiljohn

Both the Morales and Pillar deals were part of the Blue Jays’ shift from veterans to their youth movement, so I wouldn’t expect any deals similar to those in early 2020. The Blue Jays also don’t have any glaring needs or roster holes that they’re unsatisfied with right now, so it would take an injury to necessitate a trade.

If the Blue Jays were to jump into the trade market, it would likely come at the end of camp as clubs cut their rosters down. Perhaps there’s room for a bench bat who fits in to the complicated picture at DH, but that can often be found via free agency or on waivers, even late in the game.

Toronto’s primary positional trade target this offseason likely would have been a true center fielder, but general manager Ross Atkins said that the club was hesitant to give up significant pieces for what they would consider a marginal upgrade over Randal Grichuk or Hernandez. Where things might really get interesting is at the Trade Deadline, though, where the Blue Jays could be involved on players with multiple years of team control.

Keegan Matheson is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.