The On Deck Circle

The unofficial home of Real Talk

Spring Training Update: Jays Cut Johnson, Only Bullpen Questions Remain

Posted by Blake Murphy on March 23, 2008

The curse of the Billy Goat Goatee continues. I’m going to have to publicize this theory soon.

On Sunday morning, the Toronto Blue Jays erased the largest looming question mark at spring training in Dunedin by cutting left fielder Reed Johnson. The move comes just one day after John Gibbons said the roster would be set by Friday and just two days after Jesse Litsch was named as the official #5 starter, meaning the only remaining questions are bullpen-related.

One week into spring training, the Jays signed Shannon Stewart to add to the left field logjam and create in-camp competition for the second half of a left field platoon that will also include Matt Stairs. So far in spring training, Johnson had slightly outperformed Stewart, with an average of .289 to Stewart’s .226. Additionally, Reed lead the team in plate appearances, likely so the team could get a good look at how he is rebounding from a herniated disc and resulting surgery. Based on spring performance and internet rumors, it really seemed like Reed would win the job.

Taking Reed north at the end of this week would have made sense, too. Foremost, Reed is better suited to be the right-handed hitting half of a platoon. He mashes lefties and is mediocre against righties, he is a great defender and therefore a candidate for late-inning defensive replacements, and he can hit just about anywhere that’s not the heart of the order. These are all characteristics of a solid platoon player.

Instead, the Jays will take ex-Jay Shannon Stewart north on Friday. I like the move, personally, for a couple of reasons. The most pressing reason is that Stewart’s career track record is far superior to Johnson’s, with a .298 career average and a consistently spectacular on-base percentage. While Stewart is a downgrade in the field, so is his platoon counterpart in Stairs, and with two strong outfielders in Rios and Wells the need for a strong left fielder isn’t enormous. Most importantly, though, I’m not a believer in Stairs’ ability to repeat his 2007 success. In my mind, Stairs is a great back-up and should always perform well in limited at-bats because of his natural power and experience. As an everyday or platoon player, though, I’m unsure if he can keep up his torrid 2007 pace. By keeping Stewart, the Jays hedge against this possibility because Stewart is equally effective against both righties and lefties and is therefore a much better option than Johnson as a full-time left fielder.

The move also makes sense financially since only $500,000 of Reed’s $3.275M contract was guaranteed. Shannon moving from spring training to the main roster costs the team $1.25M, so overall the Jays are saving over $1.5M with this decision. I question whether it should have been this straightforward, though, seeing as there is a serious need in the National League for players like Johnson. The Mets, in particular, need a platoon-able outfielder with strong defense and speed, and I think Ricciardi could have brokered a trade with someone. That said, doing this now is a little more fair to Reed, giving him a full week to try and solicit a job before the season starts, something I’d assume he’ll have no trouble doing.

As I mentioned, the Jays also named Jesse Litsch the #5 starter, meaning the only questions regarding the 25-man roster remaining have to do with the bullpen. The team is iffy on BJ Ryan’s chances to break camp with the team, or at least pitch every day, so the situation is very unclear.

We know for sure that Jeremy Accardo and Scott Downs will be there. BJ Ryan is also a guarantee if healthy, leaving four spots open with a good deal of competition.

The team is looking at lefties Brian Tallet, John Parrish, and Davis Romero and righties Brian Wolfe, Jason Frasor, Brandon League, Randy Wells, Armando Benitez, Shawn Camp, and Josh Banks all as potential candidates.

Wells makes sense since he is a Rule V draft pick and must be offered back to the Cubs if he doesn’t make the team, but he is also very unproven despite having a good spring. On the opposite side, Romero and Banks aren’t strong candidates because they are young with options remaining and can therefore be sent to AAA at no cost to the team while they develop. We are left, then, with four spots for Tallet, Parrish, Wolfe, Frasor, League, and Benitez, since Camp has not had a mind-blowing spring or career.

Parrish and Tallet would both be long reliever lefties, and Tallet may have the edge both because of his experience and because Parrish could be stretched out for starter depth in the minors. I’m not a big Tallet fan, but I would assume he is locking up the long-relief role.

For righties, League would be the personal favorite to get a job, given his high-upside and long road to the majors. Frasor is a Gibbons favorite despite struggling for the last two years. Wolfe played great last year but has options remaining and may be AAA-depth fodder. Benitez may not be ready for major league work come March 31 and was signed as a stop-gap for depth. Looking at those choppy sentences, I’d predict Frasor, League, and Wolfe all make the team.

The bullpen would then shake down with Ryan closing, Accardo and Downs setting up, League, Wolfe, and Frasor handling the middle innings, Tallet doing long relief, and Benitez, Parrish, Camp, and Romero providing depth at AAA. That looks like a formidable bullpen despite the loss of Janssen, and we have enough strong arms and depth that Gibby is free to mess it up if he so chooses.

So…the final week of training camp could be a boring one for the Jays. Only bullpen questions remain, and only the B.J. question is of serious importance. The rest of the week will be to get extra work in and to try and determine a batting order that Gibbons won’t tire of quickly. You can expect big updates this week as the team gets ready for their Monday, March 31 opener at Yankee Stadium.

Oh, and if you haven’t been paying attention, here’s a quick look at the camp so far, just for players with a shot at the team.

Performing well: Hill, Coats, Overbay, Rolen, Stairs, Wells, league, Downs, Wolfe, Frasor, Halladay

In the middle: Barajas, McDonald, Wells, Scutaro, Parrish, Camp, Marcum

Struggling: Stewart, Rios, Zaun, Eckstein, Burnett, Litsch, McGowan, Romero, Accardo, Tallet

Oh God, not again: Thomas

5 Responses to “Spring Training Update: Jays Cut Johnson, Only Bullpen Questions Remain”

  1. Erik Says:

    I like the move. Better contract, better career track record, able to hit lefties AND righties if Stairs struggles. Hopefully Reed can get a job in the NL (Mets, Padres, etc) where he can platoon and just crush lefties. He’s better suited for the NL anyways.

  2. Blake Murphy Says:

    In other news, Scott Rolen broke his finger today doing a fielding drill. FUCK!

    We talkin’ bout practice!

  3. Erik Says:

    oh god… it’s happening again.

  4. Cone Says:

    terrible news with Rolen….and its sad to see a great character and hustle guy like Johnson leave…especially with getting nothing in return

  5. erik Says:

    jp almost broke down and had tears in his eyes when talking to reporters

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