The Toronto Blue Jays are looking to clear the decks of veteran players, if not salaries, after their trade of Russell Martin to the Los Angeles Dodgers and their release of Troy Tulowitzki, who later signed with the New Yankees. This clearing leaves the way open for younger players in the infield and behind the plate.
The Toronto Blue Jays have a plethora of premium prospects on the infield and behind the plate and the trade of Martin and release of Tulowitzki will not only allow these younger players to get more playing time, but it will give the Jays the ability to move forward without the risks of alienating veteran players who may sour the clubhouse with a lack of playing time or demands of a trade.
While Russell Martin was the model of composure and maturity, taking a back seat to rookies Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire last September, does anyone think that he would accept a limited role in 2019? Tulowitzki had made it known that he thought of himself as a starting shortstop when healthy and the Blue Jays were not willing to make that commitment to him, considering his limited ability to stay on the field in the last two years and his 80 OPS+ when he was on the field in 2017.
While projections aren’t necessarily accurate, Baseball Reference is projecting that Martin hits for a .691 OPS in 2019 while Danny Jansen (over fewer at bats) would have a .763 OPS. Fangraphs is a little more generous for Martin (.700 OPS) and a little stingier for Jansen (.758 OPS) but it’s clear that even though the Blue Jays are getting a higher-priced player off the roster (if not off the books), they can expect to see improved performance on the field from Danny Jansen.
The middle-infield situation is a little muddier if only for the fact that the Blue Jays have several players looking to fill the role at shortstop, particularly without Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz in 2019. It’s pretty clear that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is going to get the bulk of the playing time. He posted 0.1 rWAR or 0.4 fWAR (depending on whether you go by Baseball Reference’s or Fangraphs’s version of WAR) in 263 plate appearances in 2018 but he’s predicted to do much better in 2019 with 2.1 WAR and a .730 OPS projected by Fangraphs and a .751 OPS projected by Baseball Reference. With question marks at second base (I hate to call Devon Travis a “question mark” but there it is to along with questions about Brandon Drury‘s health and ability to hit when healthy), it’s tough to see anyone supplanting Gurriel at short in the near term (although Bo Bichette could very well do so in the longer term).
But the main positive is that by clearing the way for Gurriel, the Blue Jays will be able to see what they have in the Cuban infielder, especially considering the fact that they owe him just over $19.5 million over the next five years. He’s going to play somewhere, particularly since demonstrating that he’s not overwhelmed by major league pitching in his first go-round in the big leagues last year.
With the Martin trade and Tulo release, the Blue Jays now have only one spot on the diamond taken up by a veteran player whose best days may be behind him, Kendrys Morales. I’m definitely not advocating clearing the decks of Morales just yet, whose positive influence on Cuban and Latin-American players has been reported. The Blue Jays will be manning the infield with a very young crew and Morales and Justin Smoak will, no doubt, have a calming effect. That said, with Morales in the last year of his deal, making $12 million, there maybe a marked shift towards the end of 2019 with Rowdy Tellez showing that he’s ready to take on more of an every day role and would begin to split time with Morales and Smoak, likely with Morales getting less time on the field to accommodate Tellez.
For young players coming up through the Blue Jays’ system, it is a clear message that there is a route to the big leagues if merited. The Jays saw 14 players make their major league debut last year (ok, Billy McKinney‘s debut was with the Yankees, but it was in 2018). There should be several more coming in mid-to-late 2019 and some of the 2018 rookies are likely looking to establish themselves as major leaguers in 2019.
It’s a great time to be a young player in the Blue Jays organization as the trade of Martin and the release of Tulowitzki is showing the players that the club is ready to turn the page and let their youngsters make a run for the majors.
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