The Blue Jays’ answer in the infield could still be Cavan Biggio
The Blue Jays are scouring the markets at second and third base, but they don’t necessarily need to fill both spots. They already have someone in mind for one of the jobs.
During last week’s general managers’ meetings in California, Ross Atkins went out of his way multiple times to talk up Cavan Biggio. The message seemed clear: The versatile infielder remains part of the club’s plans next year and beyond, despite a lost 2021 season
That might be viewed as gamesmanship in another off-season, a front-office executive praising one of his players before making a trade. That’s unlikely to be the case here because Biggio’s value is at an all-time low following an injury-plagued season and the Jays seem to genuinely believe it won’t be long before he gets it back up.
“I’m really excited about Cavan Biggio next year,” Atkins said when asked about the Jays’ infield. “I feel like with the injuries he had this year, I’m just extremely optimistic that we’re going to see a very good player in Cavan moving forward, not just next year.
“Obviously, the progress of Bo (Bichette) and Vladdy (Guerrero) puts us in a very strong start. Adding another infielder, either in a significant way or to complement some of the other young infielders that we have, would be a good outcome. Don’t feel like we absolutely have to, but we’d like to add another infielder into that mix.”
Biggio is one year removed from being a key cog in the Jays’ young core. When he was at his best in 2019 and 2020, the versatile infielder/outfielder offered a skill set Toronto didn’t have elsewhere. In a starting lineup filled with free swinging righties, Biggio was the outlier, a patient left-handed bat that worked deep counts and offered above-average power.
It’s easy to forget how good Biggio was in his first two seasons. He led the Jays in on-base percentage both years while slugging 24 homers across 159 games. This year, his numbers plummeted. His on-base percentage dropped from .368 to .323 and the power went missing, with 2.8 homers per 100 at-bats after averaging 4.2 in 2019-20.
What the Jays need to figure out is whether Biggio struggled because of injuries or because opposing pitchers figured out how to attack him. If it’s the latter, or even some combination of the two, they’ll have to factor that into his future projections. If it’s the former, they can write off 2021.
“I think that’s more likely than not,” Atkins said when asked about Biggio’s ability to bounce back. “I think his history of plate discipline, his focus, his confidence, will trump what he did last year.”
Atkins said the Jays have remained in touch with Biggio, who could be part of a platoon with infielder Santiago Espinal. They haven’t told him what position he’s going to play, but that he should be prepared to handle second or third, possibly even some outfield. His spot will depend entirely on who else gets added before opening day.
All things being equal, the choice should be clear. Biggio struggled at times defensively at third, where his lack of arm strength occasionally caused issues. Historically, he has been much better at second, where he spent the first two years of his career as the primary double-play partner with Bo Bichette.
According to Statcast, from 2019-20, Biggio was minus-2 outs above average at second base. In 2021 alone, he was minus-3 at third with far fewer reps. Fangraphs’ defensive runs saved tells a somewhat similar story with Biggio plus-2 at second during those initial seasons with zero defensive runs saved at third this year.
The Jays’ preference likely would be to put Biggio back at second base as well, but they can’t commit to that right now. Not with Semien and a slew of other potential impact middle infielders available on the market. Even if signing one of the top guys proves to be out of the Jays’ reach, they don’t want to back themselves into a corner by committing to Biggio at one spot over the other this early in the off-season.
“We’ve talked a few times recently,” Atkins said of Biggio, who was limited to 79 games this season because of neck and back injuries. “He is so open-minded and so willing to be flexible. Because of his ability, because of his athleticism, he’s confident that he can make the adjustment. I told him as we learn more about our opportunities, I would keep him in the loop.
“As he starts his work at second and/or third, or both, and outfield … we can come up with a plan together every step of the way but (we) would rather learn as much as possible before we make that decision. He’s comfortable with that.”
Biggio was forgotten man in 2021. He didn’t rejoin the Jays for their late-season push until late September. He didn’t get into a game until a three-hit performance on Oct. 1 reminded everyone what he was capable of.
The 26-year-old might not be a star, but he can be an important role player on a very good team. The Jays need some of the skills that Biggio offers and, by the sound of it, he’s going to get at least one more shot to prove he can be a key part of the future.