Look at our depth charts, please. Go ahead, look! If you sort by position, ascending from worst to best, you’ll see a few spots that are projected to be just awful, by which I mean, “1 WAR or less.” That’s close enough to zero WAR that we can safely describe them as “replacement-level,” and that’s not a situation any contender wants to be in. Of course, many of those spots — Marlins shortstop, Brewers first base, etc. — don’t belong to likely contenders, which I will completely arbitrarily define as having playoff odds of at least 30 percent on our Cool Standings page.
That still leaves a few potential contenders with a big problem, but none more so than second base in Toronto, where the Blue Jays are apparently actually planning to give Ryan Goins a crack at second base, if for no other reason than that Maicer Izturis was atrocious last year. Between Goins, Izturis, Munenori Kawasaki, Chris Getz, and Steve Tolleson, the Jays keystone crew ranks dead last in our second base projections, and no, newcomer Brett Morel‘s attempt to move from third isn’t changing that needle.
If anything, that combined projection of 0.4 WAR seems possibly high, because it partially depends on Izturis being somewhat less miserable than he was last season. If Goins can even manage to be replacement-level, that will be something, because he’s coming off a Triple-A debut in which he hit just .257/.311/.369, followed by a .252/.264/.345 line (and a 1.7% walk rate!) in 121 plate appearances after the Jays after Izturis injured his ankle and Emilio Bonifacio was traded. The Fans, Steamer, and Oliver all think he’ll put up a wRC+ in the 60-69 range, which is of course terrible, no matter how good the glove is, and for a team that still has a chance to contend, that’s just not going to work.
But of course, no one expects this to go on long enough to have a chance to fail. The point of this post isn’t to point out how poor the Toronto second base situation is, it’s to answer the question: What can they do about it? With Ubaldo Jimenez now off to Baltimore and Ervin Santana seemingly like a terribly poor fit for the Rogers Centre — no matter how badly they need rotation depth — the Jays have yet to make their moves this winter, having added only catcher Dioner Navarro. A Toronto move to add a second baseman seems like the most obvious trade to happen of the spring, if only because one nearly already happened, or at least it would have if Ian Kinsler hadn’t reportedly planned to veto the deal.
So where do they go? We can take a look at Steamer’s second base projections and see that there’s 116 options, but of course most of those aren’t realistic. They aren’t getting Robinson Cano or Dustin Pedroia or Ben Zobrist, and guys at the other end like Tony Abreu aren’t really worth the effort.
The name everyone wants but doesn’t really fit
Pretty much every time this discussion comes up, Nick Franklin‘s name appears as well. After all, he’s a well-regarded prospect who just lost his spot in Seattle for the next million years thanks to Robinson Cano, and as much as Lloyd McClendon wants to pay lip service to Franklin competing with Brad Miller at shortstop, absolutely no one expects it to happen. So he’s as good as out the door, right?
Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean that Toronto matches up particularly well, because even though Franklin wasn’t especially impressive in his 2013 debut, he still doesn’t turn 23 for another two weeks, and Seattle isn’t letting a young talent with five controllable years remaining go easily. What the Mariners need more than anything is a starter to fill out a rotation that’s already dealing with an injury to Hisashi Iwakuma.
Meanwhile, this is the rotation the Jays currently have:
- R.A. Dickey
- Mark Buehrle
- Brandon Morrow, for the 10 minutes he’s healthy
- J.A. Happ, see above
- Esmil Rogers, maybe? Marcus Stroman, at some point
The Jays needed Jimenez, didn’t get him, and still need a starter. There’s not exactly much here they can offer Seattle for Franklin, and they aren’t dipping into the minors to send Aaron Sanchez west, either. The Mariners probably trade Franklin sooner than later, but other teams match up better.
The trade route, buying low division
Franklin doesn’t fit, but would Dustin Ackley? At the moment, he’s penciled in to be Seattle’s primary center fielder, but if and when they go out and sign Nelson Cruz, as we all expect them to do, they’re going to have to find a place for him to play. Assuming he’s spending at least half of his time, if not more, in right field, that pushes Michael Saunders back to left, and Logan Morrison and Corey Hart into some kind of first base / DH situation with Justin Smoak. Maybe that inevitably ends with Smoak being traded to Pittsburgh, but maybe it means that Saunders returns to center, where he has over 2,000 innings of experience, and Ackley gets moved.
Though Seattle sees him as a center fielder now, he did start eight games at second over the final two months last year, where he still grades out well defensively, and he has enough in his bat to be worth a win or two more than Goins. That doesn’t mean that Toronto suddenly has a starter to trade to Seattle, but Ackley’s trade value is far lower than Franklin’s.
Far less exciting is Danny Espinosa, who was just atrocious last year in Washington — .158/.193/.272! — and ended up back in the minors, though he’s being given a chance to beat out Anthony Rendon for his job this spring. That’s unlikely to happen, but while he may just end up in Triple-A, he’s also a guy who was worth three wins in both 2011 and ’12, combining good power with solid defense, and his 2013 struggles can at least partially be chalked up to his wrist and shoulder. Espinosa might be done entering his age-27 season, or he might be worth taking a buy-low shot on.
There’s also Rickie Weeks, who is less a “buy low” than he is a “please, please take him” at this point after hitting .209/.306/.357 for Milwaukee, all but certainly losing his job to Scooter Gennett. It’s almost hard to believe he was worth 10 wins in 2010-11 considering how far he’s declined on both sides of the ball, and he’s still owed $11.5m for his age-31 season in 2014. If the Jays wanted to take a chance, Milwaukee would surely jump to clear any of that salary. You can swap out “Rickie Weeks” for “Dan Uggla” in most of this paragraph, too.
The trade route, bigger name division
Brandon Phillips is declining and absolutely won’t top 100 RBI again now that Shin-Soo Choo is gone, but he’s still good for two to three WAR. That said, while the Reds have an obvious need in the outfield to hedge against Billy Hamilton and Ryan Ludwick, Toronto doesn’t have an equally obvious piece to send back. Either way, the Reds think they can win and aren’t likely to move Phillips when they have only Skip Schumaker, who may be less valuable than Goins, to replace him.
Whether or not Daniel Murphy is a “bigger name” is arguable, but despite being a below-average second baseman, he’s valuable enough with the bat that he was worth three wins last year, and is a reasonably solid bet to do the same in 2013. Eric Young can’t really play second base, but the Mets seem fascinated with having him in the lineup, and opening up the keystone for him would at least let Juan Lagares continue to bring his fantastic defense to center. New York won’t let Murphy go lightly, but a decent-yet-far-from-elite second baseman headed into the expensive part of arbitration isn’t going to command a monster return, either.
The unlikely free agent route
Stephen Drew is another popular name here, particularly because with two protected first round picks, the qualifying offer anchor hurts the Jays less than most, and his price can’t be high at this point. Even so, the fit isn’t great, because Drew isn’t going to displace Jose Reyes, and while he’s potentially willing to move to second base, the fact that he’d now be trying to do so without even a full spring training, much less a full winter in front of it, makes it somewhat worrisome. Besides, for whatever reason — different country, brutal division, the turf — Toronto has had difficulty convincing free agents to come.
That might be a problem for Cuban defector Aledmys Diaz, who is now eligible to sign with a team and had Toronto scouts in attendance at his workout last week. Would Diaz be willing to go to Canada and to a team that would ask him to move off of shortstop? It’s easy to see him looking elsewhere.
Toronto has various options, but none perfect. Perhaps the Jays try to make several moving parts happen at once, using their protected first rounders as a way to trade Adam Lind to a team that needs help and doesn’t want to lose a pick, then signing Kendrys Morales. Either way, the fans are getting restless. If starting pitching help isn’t coming, a second base upgrade has to be. Otherwise, Navarro is all that’s happened this winter, and even a projected improvement from simply having Reyes and Melky Cabrera healthier than last year won’t help the Jays in what should once again be the toughest division in baseball.
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