After racing out to a 4-0 lead against the division-worst Red Sox in the first inning, it looked like the Blue Jays would cruise to an easy victory on Tuesday night in Buffalo, N.Y., but nothing about this season has been simple.
Toronto fell apart in the sixth inning, allowing six runs to score, as the transition from starter Chase Anderson to the bullpen wasn’t smooth. Wilmer Font was charged with four runs while recording just one out, and the typically reliable A.J. Cole surrendered a bases-clearing triple to Rafael Devers that put the Red Sox in front for good in the 9-7 loss.
Anderson pushed as far as he could -- five-plus innings on 83 pitches -- given that he’s still building back up from a strained oblique in Summer Camp. Bullpen letdowns will happen, even if they’ve been relatively rare for the Blue Jays, but the club’s infield depth and bench bats are being tested, too, as Monday's Trade Deadline approaches.
Travis Shaw was forced to leave the game early with right knee discomfort, and while Santiago Espinal is quickly becoming a legitimate long-term piece, the depth duo of Brandon Drury and Joe Panik haven’t given the Blue Jays the offense they need from the bottom of the order. Panik played well after replacing Shaw, going 2-for-3 with a walk, but Drury went 0-for-4, dropping his average to .152.
Shaw’s injury is being called “day to day” for now and Bo Bichette will return to this roster eventually, but regardless of their timelines, the Blue Jays have an opportunity to add to their infield. It’s a tangled and complicated picture, given the flexibility of their roster, but here are a few groups to consider.
The obvious options
The Blue Jays have internal candidates, but there’s a difference between options and good options. This subgroup also highlights the value of Bichette’s return, which will set its wheels in motion this weekend when he begins taking part in baseball activities.
If Bichette were at shortstop tomorrow, the Blue Jays could do with third base what they’ve been doing in his absence. A combination of Espinal, Drury and Panik can play across the infield, with Espinal making a very strong impression as a rookie, including three hits with a loud double and a bunt single on Tuesday.
Having two of the three on the field until Bichette’s return could thin the lineup, especially with Drury posting a .358 OPS so far.
"He's still playing good defence, but he hasn't done much offensively to this point,” manager Charlie Montoyo said after Tuesday’s loss. “That's the best way I can put it. He can still pick it anywhere, but offensively, he hasn't had many good at-bats to this point."
The creative options
Moving Vladimir Guerrero Jr. back to third base isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, but it’s an idea that the Blue Jays are at least keeping the door cracked open to. Guerrero’s rookie season wasn’t littered with defensive gems, and he’s a much more natural fit at first base physically, but he’s been taking ground balls at the hot corner just in case. In that scenario, Guerrero would move to third with Rowdy Tellez at first, opening up the designated hitter spot. Unless there’s a game-changing bat who could step into more DH reps, though, that’s a lot of movement resulting in a poorer defensive team.
Cavan Biggio could be an option, too. Biggio played enough third base in the Minor Leagues, and even if he hadn’t, the Blue Jays trust him to fill any role, from center fielder to head groundskeeper. Biggio, like Guerrero, would be about fitting the puzzle together, though. Would Toronto prefer Biggio at third base with another internal option at second instead of the other way around?
The aggressive options
Monday's Trade Deadline is fast approaching, and flipping cash considerations to the Mariners for bench bat Daniel Vogelbach isn’t likely to be the Blue Jays’ grand haul.
Toronto will presumably target an “infielder” more broadly instead of a strict third baseman, given all of the moveable pieces above, and there should be options. A big swing at Kyle Seager in Seattle would lock down the hot corner for not just 2020 but also '21 with a productive veteran as the club's top infield prospects round out their development. There are also options like Tommy La Stella of the Angels, Asdrúbal Cabrera of the Nationals, Jonathan Villar of the Marlins and Jonathan Schoop of the Tigers, among others.
Keep in mind that the Blue Jays have very few major financial commitments in 2021, given that much of their roster is still in pre-arbitration years. Using money as a tool in deals has worked in Toronto's favor in the past, and eating some or all of a contract could be a valuable chip for the club again.