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Inbox: Who will man keystone for Blue Jays?

Fans ask about Tulowitzki, possible trades, center field, rookie contracts
December 19, 2018

Who do you see as the starting second baseman by mid-summer? And will they get John Gibbons to throw out a first pitch this year? -- @iangowansBrandon Drury. The 26-year-old might consider himself a third baseman, but that job will belong to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. by the end of April,

Who do you see as the starting second baseman by mid-summer? And will they get John Gibbons to throw out a first pitch this year?
-- @iangowans

Brandon Drury. The 26-year-old might consider himself a third baseman, but that job will belong to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. by the end of April, and Drury has to go somewhere. Drury has the ability to play all over the field, but the Blue Jays want him to receive everyday at-bats and the only place that can really happen is at second base.
That doesn't bode well for Devon Travis, who will need a strong spring and start to the regular season to keep his job. Despite a down year in 2018, Travis offers plenty of upside with the bat and could turn into the perfect buy-low candidate for another team. It's just hard to see how he fits into the plans of the current front office, which made Drury a key part of its return for J.A. Happ. As for Gibbons, I'd be shocked to see him at Rogers Centre next year, but considering he's second on the club's all-time wins list, does that mean he's headed for the Level of Excellence? Even if he's not, Gibbons will be back. Just not in 2019.
:: Submit a question to the Blue Jays Inbox ::
I understand, and agree, with the Blue Jays cutting Troy Tulowitzki, but could they not get him to agree to less money by making him sit on the bench until his contract was up?
-- Ken, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

I tried to ask a similar question to Ross Atkins during the Winter Meetings, but he understandably sidestepped it. Tulowitzki said just a few months ago he would quit and go home before moving off short. So did the Blue Jays consider calling his bluff to see if Tulowitzki really would have retired? Well, they had to have at least talked about it, but there are a number of reasons it would not have gained much traction.

It's clear the Blue Jays wanted nothing to do with the distraction of having Tulowitzki in camp. Considering the name, reporters would have made it a regular habit to focus on Tulowitzki, and it seems like Toronto instead wanted to give Lourdes Gurriel Jr. a fresh start. Then there's the obvious skepticism that Tulowitzki would have walked away from $38 million, because how many people would even think about doing something like that? Toronto had been considering his contract a sunk cost for a long time, and if the Blue Jays thought Tulowitzki had a chance of re-establishing value any time soon, they never would have made this move.
Just wondering if you see the Jays trying to take advantage of absorbing a bad short-term contract for assets, and who may possibly be in play for such deals?
-- Jordan, Burnt Islands, Newfoundland

Not at the moment. I think if the Blue Jays acquire a "bad contract" this offseason, it would be as part of the return for Russell Martin. Despite public statements to the contrary, Toronto really needs to move Martin and the $20 million remaining on his salary in order to clear room for Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire. No team is going to consider absorbing Martin's $20 million price tag unless the Blue Jays either eat the money or take a bad deal in return.
A more likely scenario would be the Blue Jays absorbing their own salary in midseason deals. Justin Smoak, Kevin Pillar, Kendrys Morales, Marcus Stroman and Ken Giles are expected to be among those who will be used as trade chips, and if it increases the return, Toronto should have the flexibility to chip in some extra cash. Until then, there's too much dead money on the books for a team that needs to make a couple of additions and whose payroll is moving in a downward trajectory.
Do you see Pillar returning next season? Seems almost more likely to me that he's traded/replaced with Randal Grichuk in center field.
-- Caylum C., Bridgetown, Nova Scotia

I had Pillar down as one of my non-tender candidates earlier this offseason, so I'm not about to guarantee his return, but I'd still say he's likely to be back with the Blue Jays in 2019. Toronto seems content to go with a four-man outfield rotation of Pillar, Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez and Billy McKinney, and as mentioned in last week's Inbox, Anthony Alford needs to string together a couple of strong months in Buffalo before he will be considered for a promotion.

Some reports linked Pillar to the Giants earlier this month, and if San Francisco offers suitable assets in return, then the Blue Jays will obviously listen. Pillar and every other veteran player is available, but he's not about to be cut loose for nothing. Pillar is the longest-tenured Blue Jay, he's one of the club's most marketable and popular players, and expect him to stick around for one more year unless an offer of merit surfaces.
Is it the player or the team that doesn't look for the seven- or eight-year deals right off the bat for rookies? With payroll so low, it would look good for the team if they gave Jr. a big league contract right now instead of going year to year. Show him now that he is going to be the face of this team.
-- Jeremy C., Irma, Alberta

Generally speaking, teams aren't going to hand out multi-year deals to pre-arbitration eligible players unless at least one or two years of free agency are bought out as part of the contract. Players typically aren't going to easily sign away free-agent years unless they're the type of person who wants to mitigate risk and gain long-term security. If the agent wants to push for the highest amount of money, it almost always make sense to go year to year early on.
The most likely scenario for an early Guerrero extension was last year when service time was still an issue. The Blue Jays only need to stash Guerrero in the Minors for a few more weeks to gain an extra year of control, so there is far less incentive on their end to offer a long-term deal compared to last season. The pressure to promote Guerrero is all but gone, so the game's top prospect doesn't have the same leverage he once did. Extension talks might heat up a couple of years from now as Guerrero approaches arbitration, but it would be very surprising if there was traction any time soon.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.