Blue Jays’ Opening Day Roster Takes Shape After Espinal Trade

With the Santiago Espinal trade, the Toronto Blue Jays' Opening Day roster is beginning to take shape with one week to go in spring training.

The Toronto Blue Jays made some changes to their roster last night, as the organization announced that they had traded infielder Santiago Espinal to the Cincinnati Reds. Heading to Toronto is prospect pitcher Chris McElvain, who split last season between Single-A and High-A for the Reds organization.

Since making his debut in 2020, Espinal has amassed a .273/.331/.367 slash line with 56 doubles, 11 home runs, and 99 RBI to the tune of a .698 OPS through 346 games. An All-Star in 2022, Espinal played multiple infield positions for the Blue Jays over the past four seasons, mostly at third and second base where he made a career-high 135 appearances during the 2022 campaign.

Last season, Espinal saw a decline at the plate and also saw a dip in his on-field production, posting -1 DRS at both third and second base with .963 and .953 fielding percentages respectively. With other internal options available last season in Whit Merrifield, Davis Schneider, and Cavan Biggio, Espinal saw his role change more to a late-inning defensive replacement compared to being a starter as the season wore on.

Blue Jays trade Santiago Espinal to the Cincinnati Reds

While the Jays’ roster has undergone an overhaul compared to the 2023 squad, Espinal was in a tough spot for playing time after the Blue Jays’ offseason signing of Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who is currently slated to get a majority of the reps at third base this campaign. Biggio and Schneider can play multiple positions in both the infield and outfield, meaning even less playing time was likely available for Espinal in Toronto.

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Another factor leading to the Espinal trade was the emergence of Ernie Clement this spring, as the New York product has earned a spot on the active roster heading into the season.

The former A’s and Cleveland Guardians prospect signed with the Blue Jays on a minor league deal last offseason and through a limited sample size in the big leagues last year, he has continuously put the ball in play. Through 29 games, Clement collected 19 hits, three of which were for extra-bases, while also adding 10 RBIs and striking out just four times through 52 plate appearances, amassing a .885 OPS.

This spring, Clement has continued to show off his elite contact, as the right-handed batter has 15 hits through 40 at-bats (.375) and only one strikeout on his resume, which came on March 17th (a 12-game stretch with zero strikeouts). The soon-to-be 28-year-old can play all the same positions as Espinal and is also out of MiLB options, making Espinal all the more expendable. With two minor league options, Espinal was unlikely going to make the Opening Day roster with the crowded infield and Clement’s lack of options, as there was a high likelihood he would not clear waivers if designated for assignment.

Injury to Jansen opens up spot for Brian Serven

With Espinal no longer on the squad, a spot has opened up on the 40-man roster which the Blue Jays can use on either a non-roster invitee or a prospect who is not already on the 40-man.

For the Jays, the likely move will be the addition of an additional catcher to the squad with Danny Jansen likely starting the season on the injured list.

Jansen will likely start the season on the IL after breaking a small bone in his right-wrist last week. Since Jansen is unable to go for Opening Day, the club will need a 40-man roster spot for either Brian Serven or Payton Henry to work as the additional catcher until Jansen is back healthy, which shouldn’t be too long into the season given the recent reports and diagnosis. Serven likely has the inside track for the job but both catchers have been performing well this spring.

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Additionally, the Blue Jays could decide to use the spot for an additional bench player if Jansen isn’t slated to miss too much time to start the campaign and Alejandro Kirk can handle the workload until his return. In this scenario, Daniel Vogelbach appears to be in a good position to break camp with the Blue Jays amongst the group vying for a spot on the roster.

So far this spring, Vogelbach has three home runs and a .895 OPS through 31 at-bats, walking four times compared to seven strikeouts. The Blue Jays also have Canadian slugger Joey Votto in camp on a similar minor league deal but Vogelbach likely has the advantage over his competitor to make the Opening Day roster given the ex-Red’s late start into the spring.

Blue Jays Opening Day roster picture becomes more clear

With Espinal officially a Red, the Blue Jays bench is shaping up to be Clement, Serven and Schneider/Biggio with an open spot available for another bat.

The Jays could choose an internal prospect already on the 40-man roster like Spencer Horwitz or Nathan Lukes although the club seems to be leaning towards Vogelbach if spring at-bats are any indication. To add Vogelbach, the Jays will require a corresponding 40-man roster move (unless the club doesn’t add Serven). This means another trade or DFA is on the horizon.

The Blue Jays open up the regular season in Tampa Bay on March 28th, so the front office and the Jays coaching staff has one week to figure out their final roster solution before the team makes the trek 33 minutes south from TD Ballpark to Tropicana Field to break in the new year.