It says something about the progress of the baseball offseason when a trade of Yangervis Solarte from the San Diego Padres to the Toronto Blue Jays is a highlight. Owners and GMs are dragging their feet on signing the big-ticket items in order to depress player salaries and prepare for next winter. As such, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins’ plan for a backup infielder jumps to the top of all our news feeds. Woof.
The Blue Jays are in an awkward spot right now. They don’t appear prepared to trade Josh Donaldson, and won’t choose whether to compete or rebuild. I feel for them, given their recent history of success, their energized fan base, and the size of their market. They project to be in the second wild card fight, too. There isn’t a pressing reason to rebuild, nor is there a pressing reason to compete, given the positions of the Red Sox, Yankees, and Angels.
They are left trying to thread the needle. They have infield needs, given the declines in health and performance of Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis. They traded for Aledmys Diaz, but his unpredictability meant they could have used one more piece.
That ended up being Solarte. He didn’t cost a lot, with two depth prospects heading to San Diego. Then again, Shapiro and Atkins didn’t fleece A.J. Preller, either. Solarte is entering his age-30 season, having debuted in the majors at the age of 26. He’s been worth seven wins above replacement in that time, playing all four infield positions and swinging a league-average bat. He’s fine, but he’s neither a franchise player nor an everyday player.
The benefit to having Solarte is that he could be an everyday player. He logged no fewer than 109 games and 443 plate appearances in any of his four seasons. Solarte was the Padres’ starting third baseman for three consecutive seasons, and their starting second baseman last year. He doesn’t embarrass himself anywhere on the diamond, and league-average production isn’t nothing. He can handle himself out there.
That’s what Shapiro and Atkins are betting on. Tulowitzki managed to suit up for only 66 games last year, and has battled injuries ever since he first donned a Blue Jay uniform. Travis, once thought to be the team’s second baseman of the future, has never logged more than 101 games in his three campaigns. The Blue Jays’ middle infield is a walking time bomb.
Diaz provides one part of the insurance, but now Solarte supersedes him on the depth chart, and should both Tulowitzki and Travis go down, the Jays have two backups to go, rather than just one. All four project to be league-average hitters this coming season. It’s a collection of like-for-like swaps. If Shapiro and Atkins decide to move Donaldson now or in July, Solarte is prepared to slot in at the hot corner without the need for a corresponding addition.
Solarte isn’t the glittering, whiz-bang piece that will get the Jays back in the hunt. Shapiro and Atkins know that. He is there to cover things should they go badly, and he buys them time to decide what to do about the long-term future of the team. Does he make them contenders? He does not. But he does stop them from freefall, and from a full-on rebuild. The needle has been threaded; how much of a quilt is produced remains to be seen.