With the arrival of the new year, the Toronto Blue Jays are now just a little more than a month away from the start of spring training—when pitchers and catchers first report.
While the Blue Jays made several moves this offseason to overhaul their roster, the team is still missing some pieces it needs to be truly competitive in the American League East during the 2015 season.
Let’s take a look at three things Toronto still needs to do before the start of spring training.
Find A Second Baseman
Looking at Toronto’s projected lineup for the upcoming season, it’s obvious the team’s biggest weakness is at second base.
As things stand right now, the Blue Jays have Maicer Izturis and Ryan Goins set to play at second base.
If an upgrade isn’t made, Izturis will most likely be named the team’s starter. The 34-year-old missed most of last season with a torn ligament in his left knee, which required surgery.
Over the past two seasons, the switch-hitting Izturis has hit .240/.291/.310 with five home runs, 33 RBI and 36 runs scored in 118 games.
Goins, meanwhile, hit just .188/.209/.271 with one home run, 15 RBI and 14 runs scored in 67 games last year. While the 26-year-old is easily the better defender, those subpar offensive numbers mean Goins will likely come off the bench.
The Blue Jays also have second base prospect Devon Travis, who could theoretically challenge for the starting job during spring training.
While the 23-year-old Travis did hit .298/.358/.460 in 100 games with the Double-A Erie SeaWolves last season, it’s worth noting he has never played above the Double-A level and will most likely require a stint in Triple-A before being ready for the majors.
So, unless the Blue Jays are satisfied with the duo of Izturis and Goins at second base, they’ll need to aggressively pursue a second baseman before spring training.
With most of the top free agents this offseason now off the market, Toronto would probably have to go through the trade route if it wants to pick up a quality second baseman.
Improve the Bullpen
The most disappointing aspect of the Blue Jays’ offseason up to this point has been the fact that the team hasn’t made any significant strides toward improving a bullpen that finished 25th in the majors in ERA last season.
Heading into spring training, it’s concerning that Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, Todd Redmond and Marco Estrada (if he isn’t used as a starting pitcher) will be the only relievers with a guaranteed spot on the roster on Opening Day.
Also complicating matters is the fact that time is quickly running for the Blue Jays to add new arms to their bullpen. Most of the top free-agent relievers on the market, such as Andrew Miller, David Robertson, Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, have long since signed with another team.
Trading for a reliever is also an option, but the Blue Jays have already traded away several prospects this offseason and might be hesitant to move any more in a deal for a bullpen arm.
Toronto could also try trading catcher Dioner Navarro for a reliever, but this could be tricky to do as the number of teams with a surplus of relievers looking for a catcher is limited.
Regardless of how the Blue Jays approach this issue, it’s extremely important the team add at least one or two impact relievers to the roster before or during spring training.
Toronto’s bullpen was a major weakness for the team last season, and the Blue Jays have to be careful to ensure the same thing doesn't happen again in 2015.
Improve Outfield Depth
With Melky Cabrera signing with the Chicago White Sox and Toronto not expected to bring back free agent Colby Rasmus, two-thirds of the Blue Jays' outfield from last season won’t be returning in 2015.
Instead of Cabrera, the newly acquired Michael Saunders will man left field for Toronto moving forward.
The 29-year-old Saunders hit .273/.341/.450 with eight home runs, 34 RBI and 38 runs scored in 78 games during what was an injury-shortened 2014 season.
In center field, the Blue Jays are expected to go with 21-year-old rookie Dalton Pompey.
While Pompey had a breakout season in the minors last year, he has just 43 career plate appearances at the major-league level and might require further seasoning in Triple-A.
If that proves to be the case, then expect Toronto to give Kevin Pillar and Ezequiel Carrera a look. Both of these players bring very little to the table offensively, though, and haven’t proven they can be a starter on a contending team.
It’s also worth noting that after trading away Anthony Gose, Toronto has very little outfield depth left in the minors. If one or both of Saunders and right fielder Jose Bautista deal with injuries this season, the Blue Jays could be in trouble.
Acquiring an outfielder with a proven track record through trade or free agency needs to be a huge priority for Toronto before spring training starts.
All stats are from Baseball-Reference.com.