DUNEDIN, Fla. – Technically speaking, the Toronto Blue Jays have not yet finalized their opening day list. As manager Charlie Montoya describes it, the competition continues for a few open bullpen spots and still has the role of a bench – even after the trade that sent Reese McGuire to fellow catcher Jack Collins at the Chicago White Sox.
With the exception of the unexpected, however, the main elements of this group are now in place.
Alejandro Kirk’s defensive importance to the Blue Jays only increased after the departure of McGuire, who has worked with Toronto pitchers for the past four seasons. Greg Bird still seems to be in a good position to claim the team’s last open 40-man spot and gain a bench role. And in the case of reliever fighting for the remaining bullpen stains, these decisions will not fundamentally change the shape of this team.
So far, we know what the Toronto Blue Jays look like. More interesting questions revolve around how players will be deployed.
On that front, McGuire’s trade marks a subtle but significant change for Collins. Although both are 27-year-old catchers who hit from the left, their profiles as players are very different. Where McGuire’s biggest strength is his gloves, Blue Jess is most interested by Collins’ bat. His experience behind the plate is certainly an asset, but he may be used more as a designated heater or pinch heater.
Although Collins has a lifetime OPS of only .645, some of his underlying numbers indicate that he has a more aggressive rise. For his career, his barrel rate is 11.4 percent, average departure speed is 91.1 miles per hour, and maximum departure speed is 109.9 miles per hour – all higher than McGuire. The team that leans too far to the right has a chance to prove its left-handed bat is effective. If not, the acquisition cost was decent for an organization that is already deep in the grip.
Defensively, some in the industry see Collins as less than average. But as Kirk continues to develop behind the plate, he has become a more important part of the Blue Jays’ defensive plan. With one notable exception, the Blue Jays will pair Kirk with all of their pitchers this spring in an effort to make a name for themselves.
“That’s why we all like to catch everyone,” manager Charlie Montaio said Sunday morning before the end of the trade. “That’s exactly what happened this spring, and everyone (Danny) got every call except Jansen, who got the only (Hyun-jin) Ryu.”
The Blue Jays have gained some flexibility with the trade: Collins has short-league options left while McGuire does not. Despite the chance to break camp with the Collins team, the rosters will shrink from 28 to 26 May. If it is implemented in the coming weeks, they will have the flexibility to send Collins to minors.
Of course, there are also questions about how the Blue Jays use their existing players, and Sunday’s lineup offered more clarity there. Earlier in the week, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was hitting two holes, but the Blue Jays took him back to third in the lineup on Sunday and he ran around the base like a leadoff hitter.
In the first inning, Guerrero Jr. ran through the stop sign in the third base, scoring the whole way from the Yankees’ throwing error to the delight of TD Ballpark’s Blue Jays fans.
Later, Guerrero Jr. explained that he had not seen third base coach Luis Rivera speak slowly. Regardless, however: after stealing a base on Saturday, it is clear that the 23-year-old is doing well.
“Physically I’m feeling much better,” said Guerrero Jr. through interpreter Hector LeBron after the 7-5 win over the Yankees. “I feel faster. I can run a much better base than last year. Physically I feel much, much better now.”
The Blue Jays want to be aggressive on bases in 2022. Bo Beachet and Rimel Tapia set out to regularly steal bases. After the 48-homer season in 2021, it is clear that Guerrero Jr. is a better hitter than a base stealer, but that doesn’t mean he can’t run more if he wants to.
“That’s the thing about Vlad Guerrero,” said Montoya. “It could be 30-30 (players) if he tries. I’m telling you. People don’t think of him fast. We don’t want her to be 30-30, but 30-10? I’ll take it. Or 40-10. He could have done it. ”
For the batting order, the Blue Jays believe that their players are better off if they are comfortable in different situations. And a year later where Montoya used 133 different batting orders, it’s clear that the days of a single lineup are long gone.
For Guerrero Jr.’s choice?
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I just want to be in the lineup. It doesn’t matter where the manager puts me, I just go out and do my work. ”
In 2021, when Guerrero Jr. hit 48 home runs to finish second-placed MVP, he finished third 135 times. When he was not batting third, he was most often second (18 matches) then fifth (seven games) and cleanup (once).
It remains to be seen what this breakdown will look like in 2022. And whether he is running like that is secondary. Most important: As the season draws to a close, the most important player in the Blue Jays is getting stronger and faster.