Spots in Jays' outfield up for grabs
Veteran Wells lone lock for Toronto's Opening Day roster
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays gained some long-term financial breathing room when the club parted ways with right fielder Alex Rios last August. In the short term, though, the move stripped away a significant piece to Toronto's outfield depth chart.
This winter, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been working on finding a solution to the team's unsettled outfield situation. As things currently stand, the only given is that Vernon Wells is secure in his role as Toronto's center fielder.
The rest will be decided during Spring Training competition.
"Right now, the only guy who is truly a lock in an outfield spot is Vernon Wells," Anthopoulos said.
On Tuesday, Anthopoulos signed outfielder Jeremy Reed to a Minor League contract that includes an invitation to attend Spring Training with the Blue Jays. It's the same type of deal that outfielder Joey Gathright struck with Toronto shortly after the Winter Meetings in December. They'll both be in the mix for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
A main reason for adding Reed and Gathright is their experience as center fielders in the big leagues. When Rios manned right for the Blue Jays, he also doubled as the backup in center for Wells, who has battled various injuries over the past few seasons. Without Rios -- claimed off waivers by the White Sox -- it's not clear who ranks second behind Wells up the middle.
By allowing Chicago to claim Rios in August, Toronto was able to take nearly $60 million off the books through 2014. Considering the Blue Jays are in the midst of a transition period on the field, the club felt that kind of financial flexibility was important, no matter the temporary toll it took on the depth chart.
On the 40-man roster, the only other outfielders are Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and Travis Snider. Bautista has experience as a center fielder, but he will also be competing for a starting role in left or right field. Lind can play left, but he is coming off an outstanding season as the Jays' primary designated hitter. Snider can play left or right as well, but is not a lock for a roster spot.
More than likely, either Reed or Gathright will make the Jays' Opening Day roster to help shore up the outfield's overall depth.
"Reed is a guy that has some center-field experience and has the ability to play there," Anthopoulos said. "Obviously, Joey Gathright as well. They're both going to have an opportunity to compete for a full-time job -- also a backup outfielder job. We certainly also need depth in the Minor Leagues at that spot.
"Not having Alex Rios on the team anymore, the one thing with Vernon Wells, we always had somebody -- whether Vernon needed a day off or if he was a little banged up -- we always had somebody in Alex that was able to slide over."
This offseason, the Blue Jays also lost shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Red Sox in free agency, creating a hole in the leadoff spot of Toronto's lineup. The way the Jays' roster currently stacks up, Bautista would likely be the club's new No. 1 hitter. Gathright's case for heading north with Toronto could be aided by the fact that he has big league experience as a leadoff man as well.
Of the six outfielders in the mix for jobs, Wells, Lind and Bautista are the only ones projected to be on the Opening Day roster right now. With Lind likely in line to be the regular DH again, that leaves Snider, Reed and Gathright to compete for possible roles as a starter in left or right field or a backup job. Coming off an inconsistent season, Snider could face a trip back to Triple-A Las Vegas to open the year.
"Travis knows he's coming in and competing for a job, whether that be in right or in left," Anthopoulos said.
There's always the chance that Anthopoulos will add even more bodies to the competition, too.
Either way, the exact makeup of the outfield may not be clear until Opening Day arrives.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.