Gregor Chisholm: Tough September slate offers Blue Jays a valuable look at what’s working — and what isn’t

The Blue Jays have a little more than two weeks remaining in the regular season to take stock of what they have and determine which holes need to be plugged for 2020.

September is normally the time of year when results need to be taken with a grain of salt. Rosters expand, the sample sizes are small and at times the style of play appears more suited to the triple-A level.

That’s not really the case this year for the Blue Jays, whose entire September schedule is against contending teams, except for a pair of series vs. Baltimore. There is meaningful baseball being played, even if it doesn’t mean anything for Toronto in the standings, so the evaluation period may prove to be a little bit more realistic this time around.

With that in mind, it’s time to open the weekly mailbag. Questions for future editions should be submitted to bluejaysmailbag@gmail.com or by reaching out to me on Twitter @GregorChisholm.

The following questions may have been edited for length and grammar:

From what I’ve seen, it looks like Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire will make a pretty good duo behind the plate. They both seem to be improving quite a bit this year. How do you view the catching setup? — Dan, Canmore, Alta.

The catcher’s position is one spot that requires more patience than anywhere else and it’s not hard to figure out why. Just look at what Jansen was tasked with this year. He had to learn an almost entirely new pitching staff while adjusting to a big-league environment and figuring out how to handle opposing hitters.

It might not seem like much, but consider the Jays have used 38 different pitchers. That’s a jaw-dropping number and it’s no wonder Jansen has struggled with the bat because he has been pulled in so many different directions. The bigger test, in my mind, will come next year after he has a full season under his belt and knows what to expect. Jansen became one of Toronto’s top prospects in large part because of his plus bat, so he needs to hit but nobody should be freaking out that it hasn’t happened quite yet.

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McGuire, by most accounts, projects as a long-term backup. The numbers in the majors look nice with a .301 average and .882 OPS in 33 career games, but that production has come in a small sample size and it doesn’t line up with what he has typically produced in the minors. In 96 games for Buffalo, McGuire hit .233 with a .651 OPS and that’s more in line with what to expect from his bat. The glove remains an asset and he’s a nice complement to Jansen, but he has a long way to go before winning a full-time gig.

Is Anthony Alford’s lack of playing time in September an indication that he’ll likely be playing for another organization in 2020? — Clint B., Cranbrook, Ont.

Alford’s lack of reps isn’t necessarily an indication he’s about to leave the organization, but it does show how far down the depth chart he currently is. The priority players in Toronto’s outfield appear to be Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, Randal Grichuk and, at least for the moment, Derek Fisher. Add in Billy McKinney and Jonathan Davis and the playing time gets even murkier.

The biggest takeaway appears to be that the Jays don’t view Alford as a long-term option in centre field. Alford entered play on Tuesday with just one appearance in centre at the big-league level this year, and in the minors he played the position just 24 times vs. 26 appearances in right. Toronto has a potential opening in centre, especially considering Hernandez’s defensive issues, but if Alford was seriously in the mix he would have been playing there more in Buffalo and at the big-league level.

Which brings us to our next question …

With the addition of a 26th roster spot in 2020, and given limitations on the number of pitchers a team can carry, which position player on the Jays 40-man roster do you think benefits most from the 26th spot? — Jeff V., Canajoharie, N.Y.

For those who are unaware, MLB announced earlier this year that rosters will expand to 26 players in 2020. All teams will be able to carry an extra man on the bench and the additional room will create an opportunity for someone like Alford. Even if the Jays opt to go with a 13-man pitching staff, that would leave four spots for reserves.

During a recent interview with the Star, GM Ross Atkins specifically mentioned Alford as a possibility for the 26th spot. Alford is out of options and cannot be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers. It’s a similar position to the one Dalton Pompey found himself in earlier this year, but the extra space does provide Alford with another opportunity to crack the roster.

At some point the construction of this team will have to change. Fisher is out of options and it would seem redundant to have an outfield of Gurriel, Hernandez and Grichuk with Fisher and Alford on the bench unless the plan is to rotate those guys through the DH spot. Based on the number of bodies, it seems unlikely to me that Alford will settle into a full-time job, but the Jays aren’t going to give him away.

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What plan do you foresee the Jays having for Nate Pearson in 2020? — Felix, Toronto

Pearson tossed 1012/3 innings in the minors this year, which was a career high. That number should be 140 or 150 next year, which is a significant increase but falls short of being a full-time starter. In other words, Pearson is at least one full year away from being free of innings limits.

The Jays are still having internal discussions about how to manage the workload. The most logical approach appears to be delaying Pearson’s start to 2020. The 23-year-old could be eased into spring training and start the year in late April. Alternatively, Pearson might begin the season on time but open in Buffalo, where he could start off with short stints and gradually build up.

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Another option would be preparing Pearson for the start of the season and then shutting him down later in the year. There are a lot of scenarios being discussed, but my bet would be easing Pearson in to start the year and bringing him up at some point in May once he is properly stretched out.

Do you see Vladdy playing third all next year? — Ian G., Beamsville, Ont.

I do, but in all honesty I don’t see it lasting much longer than that. Vlad Guerrero’s arm remains an asset, but the footwork leaves a lot to be desired and his hands haven’t been reliable. Guerrero entered play Tuesday with minus-3 defensive runs saved, which isn’t as bad as one might have expected, but it still shows he’s a liability.

Remember when Edwin Encarnacion was called E-5 because of his inability to make a consistent throw? Well, the most errors Encarnacion ever had in Toronto was 18 and Guerrero is just two shy of that with more than two weeks to go. Toronto’s patience during a rebuild is understandable, but in a couple of years’ time I really don’t see this going any other way than a transition to first or designated hitter.

With the infield talent the Jays have — Vlad, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Richard Urena, etc. — and the lack of top-end pitching, what’s the chance they flip a guy like Jordan Groshans or package guys like Samad Taylor and Otto Lopez? — Nathan H., Flesherton, Ont.

These are the kinds of trades the Jays have no choice but to explore. There is ample depth in the infield, and while I wouldn’t expect a priority prospect such as Groshans to be moved, there are other pieces that could be packaged together to facilitate a deal. As you mentioned, Taylor and Lopez are two possibilities while other prospects such as Santiago Espinal and Kevin Smith are candidates as well.

Ultimately any hypothetical trade comes down to the return. Groshans isn’t being shopped and likely won’t be moved, but if there’s an intriguing starter with multiple years of control remaining on his deal the Jays would be foolish not to explore that. With a weak free agent market looming, prospect capital will play a big role in what upgrades can be made this winter.

Do the Jays have any plans to help manage Vladdy’s health (including knees and weight) this off-season? — Terry C., Toronto

The Jays have individual workout programs for all their players and Guerrero is no different. The club has provided him with clear instructions for off-season workouts for the last several years, but ultimately it’s up to the player how closely he follows it during his down time.

Guerrero has a large frame and that’s probably not going to change no matter what he does in the off-season, but the rigours of a 162-game schedule should be a bit of an eye-opener. Guerrero has experienced knee issues each of the last two years and would be well served to take his off-season training a bit more seriously to avoid more problems in the future.

Will long-term extensions for the second-generation players (Biggio, Vlad, Bichette) be harder to come by, given their family’s (likely) financial security? — Chris, Dallas

It’s an interesting question and one that is almost impossible to answer because every situation is unique, but it must play at least a minor role. Biggio, Guerrero and Bichette all grew up with major-league fathers and their quality of life benefitted as a result. These are the kinds of players who aren’t as desperate to sign a long-term deal as someone who grew up around the poverty line might be. That’s just the way life works.

That said, money talks and there’s no doubt each of these three would listen to offers because everybody wants job security. They just might not be too keen to provide a discount to a large sum of money upfront. Consider me skeptical that the Jays will be able to work out a long-term extension with Guerrero and Bichette any time soon.

Gregor Chisholm

TORONTO STAR

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