Position Battles

As we inch closer to Spring Training, one thing to look forward to every year is position battles. Last season, Toronto’s roster was pretty much locked in. That’s not the case this year, as there are a few positions that are up in the air.

Here’s a few spots where compeition may heat up:

1. STARTING ROTATION: Obviously, Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and Gustavo Chacin are locks. John Thomson has also been given a starting job, which is his to lose this spring, as well. So that leaves the No. 5 spot up for grabs.

Leading candidate: RHP Shaun Marcum — He started for the first time as a rookie last year and impressed Toronto down the stretch.

Other candidates: RHP Casey Janssen, RHP Josh Towers and RHP Dustin McGowan.

2. BULLPEN: Six spots seem set with closer B.J. Ryan, and relievers Brandon League, Jason Frasor, Jeremy Accardo, Scott Downs and Brian Tallet. That leaves one spot open.

Leading candidates: There doesn’t appear to be one pitcher that’s a frontrunner for this job. It could be RHP Francisco Rosario, who is out of options, or LHP Davis Romero, who impressed Toronto last year, but would give the Jays four lefties in the ‘pen.

Darkhorse: RHP Geremi Gonzalez — Toronto manager John Gibbons said recently that Gonzalez could be a candidate for a bullpen job. He’s had a good showing in the Venezuelan Winter League and has Major League experience as a starter and as a reliever. He could provide a veteran arm to an otherwise young bullpen.

3. BACKUP CATCHER: Gregg Zaun signed a two-year deal to be Toronto’s starter and he has a vesting option for 2009 based on games caught. So he’ll garner most of the playing time. But the backup job appears to be a battle between two veterans.

Leading candidate: Jason Phillips appears to be the frontrunner for the job. He spent much of 2006 at Triple-A, but spent some time up with the Jays. One plus with Phillips is he can also be a backup at first base.

Other candidate: Sal Fasano recently signed with the Jays and would like to compete for the backup job. He doesn’t mind playing at Triple-A for Toronto, if needed, though. The reality is that the Jays will likely need a third catcher at some point during ’07 and Toronto’s top catching prospect, Curtis Thigpen, isn’t Major League ready, yet.

4. FOURTH OUTFIELDER: Toronto is set with Reed Johnson, Vernon Wells and Alex Rios in left, center and right, respectively. The fourth outfield job could become a competition this spring, though.

Leading candidate: Matt Stairs — Toronto signed Stairs to a Minor League deal in December with the hope that he could be their fourth outfielder. It seems likely that he’ll make the roster, but as with anything, things could change.

Other candidate: Adam Lind — With Johnson set to play everyday in left, Toronto would prefer to get Lind more at-bats at Triple-A. That doesn’t mean that Lind, who impressed Toronto last season, won’t try to crack the Major League roster. If the Jays wanted to platoon in left, Lind would likely split time with Johnson. That doesn’t appear to be an option at this point, though.

5. UTILITY INFIELDER: Toronto is set around the horn with 3B Troy Glaus, SS Royce Clayton/John McDonald, 2B Aaron Hill and 1B Lyle Overbay. Beyond that, though, the Jays could have a few players vying for a job.

Leading candidate: Jason Smith — Toronto picked Smith up in the Rule 5 Draft, hoping he could emerge as their 25th guy — a player who could provide depth at third, short, second and maybe even first. With Smith, though, third base lacks a true backup for Glaus.

Other candidates: Maybe John Hattig? He was decent in his short stint with the Jays last year and he would provide a switch-hitting option off the bench. Toronto also recently claimed switch-hitting shortstop Ray Olmedo off waivers from the Reds. In all likelihood, though, the super utility infielder job is Smith’s, barring something happening this spring. Russ Adams could also have an outside chance at making the roster. He’s set to start the year at Triple-A and Toronto manager John Gibbons sees him as a second baseman now, but he could play either short or second off the bench. He’ll have to show a lot this spring to have a shot at the Opening Day roster, though.

Of these, the starting rotation, bullpen and catcher jobs appear to be the only ones with competition set to take place. The fourth outfielder and utility infielder jobs appear set, but things could change. It’ll be interesting to see how they all pan out, though.

How do you think it will all play out? And who do you like as the top candidates for these positions?

ON ANOTHER NOTE: Congrats to my hometown Chicago Bears on making it to Super Bowl XLI. Maybe after the big game in two weeks, Chicago can have something else to talk about other than the ’85 Bears. I’m very much looking forward to seeing Manning vs. the Monsters.


  1. docsanchez1@hotmail.com

    I’d personally like to see some surprises during spring training. Like Lind using his bat and defense to demand a spot. Or someone like Adams or Smith outshining MacDonald and Clayton.

    Basically I’d like Gibbons have to make some tough decisions.

    The others who don’t make it WILL be needed. For example there may only be one starting spot open but I wouldn’t be surprised to see McGowan, Janssen, Marcum or maybe Downs or someone else all make starts. Injuries happen and it is good to have depth.

    These battles in the rotation and at short are what with make or break the Jays this season. I want someone shine in spring training, but everyone will be needed.

  2. backmann@selwyn.ca

    There has been some talk about the Blue Jays getting Tomo Ohka.

    However, if he doesn’t sign with them, I predict that McGowan will eventually get the fifth slot. I actually think he can become a top notch pitcher along the lines of Carpenter or Halladay.

    I would also like to see the Jays send one of their excess players for another outfielder. Casey Blake, apparently, is on the block.

    BTW, I think Rosario is a lock for that spot in the pen.

  3. burt@rogers.com

    Are Russ Adam’s days with the Jays over? Given the players the Jay’s have picked up over the off-season, it is very unlikely that Adams will be given a chance to start at short or second – no matter how well he hits during spring training. On the other hand, every time he has been sent down to AAA-Syracuse, he has always hit over well over .300. It just seems to me that there is virtually nothing that he can do in order to win a starting job.

  4. tothdenny@yahoo.ca

    I agree with the first post, I really would like to see some suprises as well. I think this team needs some of their young players too step up too take them too the next level. As we sit right now I dont know if we are much better than last year, I wouldnt say we are worse, the loss of Lilly isnt as significant as some may think. We still have our best players.

  5. burt@rogers.com

    If the jays do end up signing Okha, does that mean that Marcum and possibly some of the other pitchers the Jays were projecting for the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation are now possibilities for the penn? If so, the Jays could have one of the best penns in baseball wrt to depth.

  6. backmann@selwyn.ca

    Another question:

    Now that Ohka is signed, what is the likelihood that one of our other pitchers will be dealt?

    I mean, I was thinking that maybe we could get another established starter (to replace Thomson) in the starting 5. Not that I’m against Thomson, or anything!

    I’m willing to bet 90%. Thoughts?

  7. dave6998@hotmail.com

    WOW thanks goodness we got Ohka. Jays were looking like a worst team then last year, then ol JP came through for us ! I’m thinkin a healthy Thomson is much better then a healthy Tomo. Both players love the D/L. I like Thomson’s SO ratings, but quite honestly i think Riccardi is gonna wait until spring training. If both guys show hot stuff then hopefully we can trade Towers for Penny ! Jk …. a guy can dream. We might have to throw in Lind too.

    Seriously, good stuff JP

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