TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' crowded infield received a little bit more clarity following Saturday's trade of Aledmys Diaz, but make no mistake about it, this group is still in a state of flux.
More changes should be expected in the weeks ahead as the Blue Jays figure out a role for Brandon Drury, contemplate Troy Tulowitzki's future and determine whether a former All-Star first baseman should be made available through trade.
General manager Ross Atkins began his offseason by flipping Diaz to the Astros for right-hander Trent Thornton. Even after the move, Toronto has infield depth to spare and could make a similar deal in the not-so-distant future. Here's a closer look at where things stand in the wake of Toronto's recent trade:
If the season started today
The Blue Jays would have a projected starting infield of Justin Smoak at first, Devon Travis at second, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. at short, Drury at third and Richard Urena in a backup infielder role. Prospects Rowdy Tellez, Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio would then offer the first line of defense for injuries as they continue their development in the Minor Leagues.
The Vlad factor
The Blue Jays will gain an extra year of control if they leave top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the Minors until the end of April. At least publicly, Toronto has not ruled out the possibility that Guerrero will break camp with the team, but based on the financial ramifications, it's essentially a foregone conclusion that he will start the year at Triple-A Buffalo.
Guerrero's eventual arrival is where things get complicated. Toronto knows Drury wants to play third, but that starting job will belong to the top-ranked prospect in baseball. That means Drury will have to shift to second base or settle into a part-time utility role, with starts all over the field. Guerrero's arrival also would push one of the aforementioned infielders -- Travis or Urena -- off the roster.
What could change?
The crop of free-agent first basemen is pretty weak. Daniel Murphy is the headliner, and the group lacks depth with Logan Morrison, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Adams representing some of the reclamation projects. What does this have to do with the Blue Jays? Well, they just happen to have a reliable first baseman on an affordable $8 million expiring contract.
Toronto isn't expected to deal Smoak this winter, but if approached with the right offer, the club has to listen. Tellez has spent the past two years at Buffalo, and a strong run as a September callup means the rebuilding Blue Jays have a ready-made replacement at first. A midseason deal still seems more likely, but one phone call could change all of that.
If the plan is for Drury to receive at-bats at second when Guerrero makes his debut, Travis becomes expendable. The Blue Jays could look to deal the 27-year-old, but it's worth noting that Travis has options remaining and the club could just as easily stash him at Buffalo. Yangervis Solarte has yet to be mentioned in this piece, and that's because he's expected to be non-tendered and won't factor into the club's plans for 2019.
What about Tulo?
Tulowitzki is the Blue Jays' highest-paid player, yet his future role is unknown. The 34-year-old hasn't appeared in a Major League uniform since July 28, 2017, thanks to a series of ankle and foot injuries, but all indications are he intends to make a comeback next spring.
There's not much Toronto can do about the $38 million remaining on Tulowitzki's contract, but even finding a spot for him on the roster may prove challenging. In an ideal world, the Blue Jays would use this season to see whether Gurriel can handle everyday duties at shortstop or whether Bichette is a better long-term fit. The issue is that Tulowitzki has previously stated multiple times -- and as recently as late August -- that he won't switch positions.
All of this could lead to a standoff in Spring Training. If Tulowitzki isn't ready for Opening Day, Toronto can push the decision to a later date. But if he wants to play, the Blue Jays will have to decide whether they want to accommodate him at short, pay out the remainder of his contract or move him into another role and see if he really is prepared to walk away.