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Inbox: Where will Blue Jays play Travis in '18?

Beat reporter Gregor Chisholm answers questions from Toronto fans
December 28, 2017

Why is Ross Atkins so obsessed with adding middle infielders? The Blue Jays need another starter, outfielder and probably even another reliever. Why so much talk about the infield? -- Sean E., Fredericton, New BrunswickThe Blue Jays' insistence on adding depth up the middle came as a bit of a

Why is Ross Atkins so obsessed with adding middle infielders? The Blue Jays need another starter, outfielder and probably even another reliever. Why so much talk about the infield?
-- Sean E., Fredericton, New Brunswick

The Blue Jays' insistence on adding depth up the middle came as a bit of a surprise, but it tells us a couple of things. One, Toronto is clearly worried about the health of Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis. Each player has spent significant time on the disabled list during each of the past three years, and until proven otherwise, it's realistic to expect something similar in 2018.
Then there's the fact that Toronto may consider using Travis in the outfield next season. That potential move depends entirely on what the Blue Jays do the rest of the offseason, but if another outfielder is not in the cards, then there is a chance Travis starts in left field, with Aledmys Diaz getting the call at second. The Blue Jays are looking for additional versatility, and knowing that Travis should be able to learn the position gives the team more options.
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Who's your under-the-radar pick for next year -- someone we might not be thinking about a lot right now but will deliver?
-- Kelsey J., Mississauga, Ontario

Anthony Alford. The 23-year-old is not going to make the team out of Spring Training, but it might not be very long before he forces his way onto the big league club. Alford, a former college football player, has been making up for lost time by extending his baseball season. In 2016, it was an appearance at the Arizona Fall League, and this year, it was a stint in the Mexican League. He has been looking for as many at-bats as possible, and his tireless work ethic should only improve his prospects for '18.

If the season began today, the Blue Jays likely would go with an outfield group of Steve Pearce, Ezequiel Carrera, Kevin Pillar and Teoscar Hernandez. Travis might receive some consideration as well, but none of those players will block Alford if he puts together a nice season at Triple-A Buffalo. 2017 was when Alford made his debut, and '18 might be when he sticks for good.
Will Dalton Pompey be in the mix next year? To protect Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez's workload, will the Blue Jays consider a six-man rotation?
-- @spartacus1978

Pompey's stock has dropped over the past two years, and he is now buried on the club's depth chart. The outfielders mentioned above, including Alford, have higher standings within the organization, and the Blue Jays might add another name to that group before the end of the offseason. Pompey has an option remaining, and he will likely be stuck in Triple-A Buffalo unless he forces Toronto's hand with his performance.

The six-man rotation is not going to happen. Toronto is prioritizing position-player depth to protect against injuries to an aging core. There's a good chance this team opens the year with a four-man bench, and in that situation, the best way for Toronto to protect its rotation is by adding a long reliever/swingman. That's a luxury the Blue Jays did not have for most of 2017.
The Red Sox are the defending American League East champs. The Yankees are a young and exciting team fresh off a Wild Card berth and an AL Championship Series appearance, and they added the NL Most Valuable Player Award winner. Explain to me again why the Blue Jays haven't started to rebuild?
-- Oscar K., Milton, Ontario

The division doesn't look very promising at the moment, and the Blue Jays' margin for error will be very thin. That's one reason why, all things being equal, I would start the rebuild by dealing Josh Donaldson, Happ and possibly even exploring the market for Roberto Osuna and Marcus Stroman. Toronto's Minor League system is a lot better than it was a year ago, and that's the core I would be looking to build around. Alford, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and T.J. Zeuch should all arrive within the next two years. Acquiring more talent at a similar level of development would only improve the future window of opportunity.
It's easy for me to say that, because I don't have to deal with the business side and that's where this situation gets tricky. Team president Mark Shapiro recently admitted during a radio appearance that if it weren't for the fans, Toronto likely would have started rebuilding a year ago. The fan support over the past couple of years has been nothing short of remarkable, and the organization is extremely hesitant to alienate some of its new customers. This team clearly isn't rebuilding quite yet, but that stance will change quickly if Toronto struggles out of the gates in 2018.

Do the Jays still plan on implementing real grass at Rogers Centre? What's the latest?
-- @andrewsalmon

No, an all-natural grass playing surface will not be happening anytime soon. Whether or not it was a realistic possibility is certainly up for debate, and the Blue Jays' front office has moved onto other renovations it deems more crucial. Toronto has been exploring upgrades to concourses, seats, concessions and the video board and installing interactive technology throughout the stadium. Shapiro's goal is to make Rogers Centre an entertainment hub that centers around baseball while also providing unique experiences not directly related to the game. This will involve modernizing the fan experience, and it won't be cheap. Neither is a grass infield, which essentially kills any hope of upgrading elsewhere.
What should we expect from Carlos Ramirez in 2018? Will he make the team or start in Triple-A?
-- Gerald N., Nepean, Ontario

A loose projection of Toronto's bullpen includes Osuna, Dennis Tepera, Danny Barnes, Dominic Leone and Aaron Loup. That leaves two spots, and one, ideally, would go to a second lefty with another reserved for long relief. Ramirez doesn't fit into either of those categories, so on paper, he's not the best fit, but the talent might also be too good to ignore.
At the moment, the converted outfielder projects as one of the last cuts in Spring Training and starting the year with Triple-A Buffalo. It would be a similar situation to the one Barnes experienced last year, as he did not head north at the end of camp, instead joining the Blue Jays in mid-April. If Tepera, Barnes or Leone experiences struggles or gets hurt, Ramirez is the first line of defense.

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