Stewart, Johnson compete for spot
Veterans both vying for playing time in platoon with Stairs in left
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- If it comes down to it, the decision to keep either Shannon Stewart or Reed Johnson on the Blue Jays' roster will be up to manager John Gibbons. That was the message Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi delivered on Saturday.
Barring injury, the Blue Jays will likely only be able to keep either Stewart or Johnson in the fold come Opening Day. The left fielder that emerges with the job will be a part of a corner-outfielder platoon with veteran Matt Stairs.
"I think [we'll go with] what Gibby's comfortable with," said Ricciardi, when asked what the decision would be based on. "Honestly, from our end, I think when you look at our league, we want to have the best offensive club we can have. I think that's important."
Gibbons may feel more inclined to carry Johnson on the roster, considering he's played during the manager's tenure in each of the past three seasons. Ricciardi's last sentiment would seem to point more to Stewart, though, considering his history as a productive hitter over 13 big league seasons
Last year, Johnson was sidelined in April and missed roughly three months after undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back. The left fielder struggled after returning in July, finishing with a .236 average in 79 games with the Jays. The 34-year-old Stewart -- a career .298 hitter -- hit .290 with 12 homers and 48 RBIs in 146 games with the Athletics last season.
"He's done a good job," Ricciardi said about Stewart. "Guys that have got a history like that, their history really precedes them. More importantly, he's healthy and he's moving around really good.
"The guy is a lifetime .300 hitter. He's going to always be able to hit and he's starting to swing the bat a little better. He's two weeks behind everybody, too. But he's done a good job."
If Stewart makes Toronto's Opening Day roster, his salary would jump to $1.5 million. Johnson is currently signed for $3.275 million, and the Jays would only be required to pay roughly $500,000 in termination pay if he's cut before the season begins.
Given Toronto's recent luck with injuries, there's still a chance that both outfielders break camp with the club.
"The next two weeks, something could happen," Ricciardi said. "Someone could get hurt and we may end up carrying both guys. I think it's still too early for us to be in a do-or-die-type situation."
Should Stewart make the team over Johnson, Toronto would lose some defense in the outfield. Johnson can man all three outfield positions and boasts a better arm than Stewart. Still, Ricciardi said utilityman Marco Scutaro can help out in the outfield, Stairs can play either corner spot, and right fielder Alex Rios is versatile enough to play center if needed.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.