Somewhere along the line, the Jays' left field situation got really interesting. At the beginning of the year, we would have figured that Travis Snider would have locked it down and settled into a full-time, long-term role with the team as the Eternal Rebuilding Plan came closer to fruition. But as the season played out, the situation in that corner of the outfield was muddied by the emergence of some and the rejigged roles of others.
By the time next March rolls around, some of the names and faces may well have changed or moved on. Regardless, we've enumerated the long list of candidates for the left field job based on what they've done this year and our view of the likelihood that they'll assume the role at the beginning of next season.
1. Eric Thames: By the end of the weekend, Thames will trail only José Bautista in plate appearances by outfielders this season. He's also second in OPS among Jays outfielders with an unspectacular .770 mark. He's had plenty of opportunity to nail down the position as his own, but a less-than-convincing defensive performance will mean he'll still have to fight his way onto the big league roster next season. His performance at the plate (.314 OBP) doesn't make up for his defensive liabilities, though we get the sense that his aggression (51.3% swing rate, highest of anyone not named Corey Patterson with 100 PAs) is not contrary to the team's philosophy. Apparently, you don't walk your way out of Vegas.
He has options, and if the Jays are squeezed to find room on the 25-man roster, we wouldn't be surprised to see him parked in in the PCL to rake at the start the season.
2. Travis Snider: Were it not for his history with the Jays and his role as the perpetual prospect on the cusp, we'd slide Snider further down this list. If you were to try to resolve this quandry with a cold-eyed statistical approach, there's at least a marginally better argument for Rajai Davis, who bettered Snider in OBP (.273 to .269), and slugging (.350 to .348).
By the eyeball test, Snider is a better fielder than Thames who improved that aspect of his game greatly last year. (If you must, his UZR/150 is 11.4, while Thames is a -18.8 and Davis is a -12.) If they Jays feel as though they can place Snider at the bottom of the lineup and let him work his way through a full season of playing with the big boys, then he's likely to start the season with the team. But his late season injury and his remaining option (yes, he apparently has one for 2012) gives Alex Anthopoulos a fairly legitimate rationale for starting him in the minors.
3. Rajai Davis: The Jays have Davis signed for $2.75 Million next year, with a $3 Million option ($500K buyout) for 2013. That's not a monstrous contract, and it would be easy to move if the Jays were so inclined. But Davis' long list of health issues means that he'll likely have to get at bats in Toronto before he'll be enough of a marketable asset. (Plus, the temptation to have a "prototypical" lead-off hitter might be too much for John Farrell to resist, even if he has toned down the relentless running game through the later part of the season.)
If Davis has a role with the Jays beyond May of next year, our guess is that it will most likely be as a fourth outfielder.
4. Adam Loewen: The Jays won't be able to park Loewen in the minors next year, which means he either makes the 25-man roster or they risk losing him on waivers. Loewen's versatility (he can play all three outfield slots and first base) might earn him a bench role next year, and if the battle for the starting LF job falls between him and Davis, we could see the Jays opting for his bat over Rajai's feet.
In his limited time in the Majors thus far, he hasn't looked out of place (five hits in five games), though the value of September performances are tough to quantify. Still, he's started to make a believer out of us. His Canadian passport means that he'll be the choice of the chattering class, for whatever that's worth.
5. Mark Teahen: It's entirely possible that the Jays choose to eat his $5.5 Million salary for 2012 and move on. If letting that much coin sink to the bottom of Lake Ontario is the cost of getting Colby Rasmus, then so be it. But if they somehow decide to bring him back, he'd be as likely to get plopped into left field as anywhere else. It's a long shot, but then again, he is sorta-Canadian.
6. Moises Sierra: The 22 year-old Sierra has had a decent year at New Hampshire (.342 OBP/.436 SLG/ .778 OPS, 18 HR and 16 SB in 133 games), posting numbers that were marginally better than those of Anthony Gose (who's still just 21.) Will likely merit a promotion to Las Vegas, where the typical PCL inflation will have tongues wagging by June over a possible callup. Unlikely to start the season with the Jays (barring a slew of trades and injuries), but will be on the far outer edge of the conversation.
7. Anthony Gose/Jake Marisnick: Included here because, you know, why not? Both will be in their 21 year-old seasons next year, presumably with Gose in Vegas and Marisnick in New Hampshire. Neither is likely to see Toronto before September at the absolute earliest. But you know you'll be asking about them all year long.
8. Edwin Encarnacion: Allegedly, this is happening. We have yet to see him play the outfield, though we've seen some brief video of him tracking fly balls from a machine. (He looked like he's able to catch soft fly balls shot directly towards him, though for that matter, we'd probably be able to pull that off.) Farrell has said that he'll get some innings out there at the end of games before the season is out, though sometimes we think he makes those sorts of comments to entertain the beat writers.
The Wisdom of Solomon?
Our interest was piqued by a tweet last night from the New Hampshire Union Leader's Kevin Gray, who is covering the beat as the Fisher Cats play for the Eastern League Championship:
Fisher Cats owner Art Solomon told the players before the game: "The way you played (in Game 1) was embarrassing."
This followed a game which the Fisher Cats lost 10-9 in the ninth inning to start the series. (Did we mention that this was the League Championship that they're playing for? We'll probably mention this again.) We were left gobsmacked at the notion that the Jerry Jones of some third-level market could take it upon himself to scold the Jays' prospects as though they were his players. Gray assured us via Twitter that Solomon feeds the boys steaks and looks after them whilst in New Hampshire, but we can't get past the fact that he has no authority to lecture the Jays prospects.
If there were speeches that needed to be given, there's a manager in Sal Fasano who can do the talking.
If Solomon wants to tear a strip off the ushers, or tear into the marketing department, or yell at a popcorn vendor, then have at it. Those are his employees. The future Jays? He should probably keep away and enjoy the fact that these players who have embarrassed him so have managed to get four additional home gates for him. A little less scolding and a little more gratitude might be in order.