Heading into the 2023 campaign, the Toronto Blue Jays did not have a regular second baseman to round out the infield. While the Blue Jays have a deep roster, it didn’t appear that manager John Schneider had a dedicated player set to take the majority of the reps at second base. However, by the end of spring training, the second base contest had been narrowed down to three players: Whit Merrifield, Cavan Biggio, and Santiago Espinal.
The former Royals infielder has the most experience of the group, having suited up for 634 games on the right side of second base prior to the 2023 season. He had amassed 10 DRS heading into the campaign and is athletic enough with a strong enough arm to play the position (and others) with regularity.
At the plate, Merrifield was the 2018 and 2019 MLB hits leader but struggled over the past couple of seasons as a member of the Royals. After being traded to the Blue Jays at the 2022 trade deadline, the righty batter played well, especially in the month of September, in which he posted a .338 batting average with a .949 OPS through 68 at-bats to help the club secure a postseason berth.
To begin the 2023 season, Merrifield has suited up just six times at second base while seeing time in the corner outfield spots as well. The South Carolina product is a versatile player, and considering the injury history of outfielders Kevin Kiermaier and George Springer, it makes sense why he is used in the outfield on occasion. At the plate, he has gone 18-for-58 (.310) with seven RBIs and has reached base in every one of the 16 games he has played this season. He is currently riding a nine-game hit streak.
An All-Star last season, Espinal found a groove to begin the year but cooled off in the latter half, splitting time with Merrifield as the season wore down. He finished with a .267 average and a .692 OPS, bringing in a career-high 51 RBIs as he saw more playing time than ever before. Of the options at second base, Espinal is likely the strongest defender right now, as he makes routine plays across the diamond and has the stats to back them up (5 DRS at 2B, 7 DRS at 3B, and 2 DRS at SS through 260 career games).
The Dominican product is off to a rough start at the plate for the Blue Jays, authoring a .384 OPS while going 4-for-35 at the plate, although he does have a home run on record with four RBIs. He is currently tied with Biggio with nine appearances at second base this season and has one error.
Espinal also recently avoided serious injury after taking a Gerrit Cole fastball to the wrist, with x-rays coming back negative. He has not been placed on the IL as of yet.
The 2022 season is one that Biggio will likely want to forget, as the Notre Dame alum struggled on the field but also dealt with various ailments that limited him to just 303 plate appearances. The lefty-batter amassed a .202 batting average to go along with a .668 OPS and six home runs.
Biggio is similar to Merrifield in that his athleticism could see him play a utility role, mostly in the corner outfield spots but also at multiple infield positions like third, second, and first base. The lefty batter has also struggled at the plate this season, mustering just four hits in 36 at-bats (.111), with 14 strikeouts on the ledger (38.8%).
He doesn’t have an error on record through April and has made the routine plays when needed, but Biggio has struggled to find regular playing time with Espinal and Merrifield on the squad as well as additional lefty bats like Kiermaier, Brandon Belt, and Daulton Varsho.
Who Should Play Second Base for the Blue Jays?
At the end of the day, it makes the most sense for one of Merrifield, Espinal, or Biggio to run away with the position. If the first few weeks are any indicator, it is Merrifield who should be seeing increased reps at second base moving forward.
The 34-year-old is able to handle the position on a regular basis and has been the best bat of the group to begin the year. He helps the Jays at the bottom of the lineup, where he currently slots in (although his spot in the batting order is a debatable topic as well).
The drawback is that with Merrifield spending more time at second, somebody will have to cover the corner outfield spots. That should be manageable for Biggio or Nathan Lukes/Jordan Luplow, both of whom have split time between Triple-A and MLB through the first 22 games.
Espinal and Biggio will still get playing time throughout the season, as Espinal will be the bench infielder and Biggio can take more reps in the outfield. However, if the Blue Jays have a clear frontrunner for regular playing time at second base early this season, it is Whit Merrifield.