I woke up this morning to the first piece of bad news out of Blue Jays camp. According to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet, outfielder Michael Saunders, just acquired in a deal for J.A. Happ, has torn his meniscus in his knee and will be out until the All Star Break.
#BlueJays say Michael Saunders tore meniscus in knee. Out to all star break
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) February 26, 2015
EDIT: Reports are now coming out that Saunders injured his knee because of some less-than-optimal field conditions at the Bobby Mattick Complex where the minor leaguers usually work out and play.
Michael Saunders stepped on soft spot around underground sprinkler on outfield grass while shagging flies yesterday. Left knee buckled.
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) February 26, 2015
This creates a new competition for playing time in the Blue Jays’ outfield and all but guarantees that Kevin Pillar will make the team since the Blue Jays will now only have three healthy outfielders on the 40-man roster (Bautista, Pompey and Pillar).
This injury will set up an interesting dynamic. While Pillar was expected to get a lot of playing time in left field anyways, particularly against left-handed pitchers, the right-handed hitter will probably now step up and get an opportunity to play every day. If he isn’t effective against righties, there is a plethora of left-handed hitting outfield candidates waiting in the wings who have signed minor league deals with invitations to major league camp.
The most recent signee is Chris Dickerson, a 32-year-old journeyman with a lifetime .257/.335/.395 slash line. My bet would be on Andy Dirks making the club out of spring training. Dirks was originally claimed off waivers from Detroit at the end of October, non-tendered and then re-signed on a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp. Dirks has struggled with back injuries and didn’t play in 2014 but has hit right-handed pitching well and has a .276/.332/.413 lifetime slash line in three seasons and is a bit younger than Dickerson at 29.
EDIT: Mike Wilner just reported on Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590 that Dirks is still not recovered from offseason back surgery and probably won’t be ready for opening day.
Another left-handed hitter, Caleb Gindl signed a minor league free agent deal with the Jays over the offseason. Gindl is only 26 and has a shorter ML track record, getting significant playing time in only one season but hitting .242/.340/.439 with Milwaukee in 2013 (he only had 23 plate appearances in 2014). Gindl had a great 2013 in Triple-A Nashville but did not hit very well last year (.227/.310/.354) in 110 games with the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate last year.
While he’s played left field before, Ezequiel Carrera, 27, is primarily a center fielder. Speedy and without the power you’d like to see in a corner outfielder, Carrera hit .253/.305/.340 in 478 major league plate appearances over four seasons with Cleveland, Philadelphia and, most recently, Detroit. Carrera had an outstanding season in the minors last year, hitting .307/.387/.422 with 43 stolen bases, playing in Triple-A Toledo.
Finally, it looks like Chris Colabello is out of the loop having been cleared off the 40-man roster and sent to Buffalo outright. Colabello has some pop and hit .214/.284/.364 in 114 major league games with Minnesota over the past two seasons. That said, he’s mostly played first base and right field and has no big league experience in left field.
The Saunders injury appears to be opening a door for Kevin Pillar, Andy Dirks and/or Chris Dickerson who would be my odds-on favourites to get playing time in left field for the big league club. The 40-man roster is full right now but a pitcher or two could be DFA’ed at the end of spring training to make room for the extra outfielder or two when the season opens.
While starting the season with Saunder out is painful to read, it will certainly make spring training a little more interesting with a competition brewing for another position.
Will the Blue Jays make a move to get a left fielder on waivers or as a minor league free agent?
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