TORONTO -- With each passing day, it's becoming more and more likely that the Blue Jays will head into Spring Training with rookie Ryan Goins as the expected starter at second base.
Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been downplaying the need to acquire a middle infielder for the past several weeks. Initially that was viewed as posturing by the organization, but as external candidates continue to fly off the board, it's becoming a much more realistic scenario.
The market at second base was relatively weak heading into the offseason and now there are even fewer candidates available. That would seem to indicate the Blue Jays will move forward with Goins at second base, which would be just fine with manager John Gibbons.
"We really like Goins, we like what he did in September," Gibbons said last week. "He gave us a shot in the arm. I thought he handled the ball well enough to be top dog going in there.
"[Maicer] Izturis [could] be a utility guy, I think that's his strength. Today that's the way we look at it. Alex could go out and make a trade for somebody to bring a second baseman in. I don't know if that's going to happen. But if not, I really like what Goins did."
The biggest benefit in going with Goins is the solid defense he will provide up the middle. Toronto's infield defense was one of its most glaring weaknesses as it became clear that neither Emilio Bonifacio nor Izturis were suitable options on turf.
Goins solved the issue when he received a promotion near the end of August. There has never been any doubt regarding Goins' ability with the glove, but it's the potential lack of offense that has been the sticking point.
The 25-year-old hit just .252, with a .264 on-base percentage during his 34 games in Toronto. With a relatively strong offense on paper, it's possible the Blue Jays could afford to go with less production from second base, but the hope is that Goins will be able to make some gains this offseason with new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer.
"I'd like to add some competition and some depth," Anthopoulos said last week. "You'd like to create all the middle-infield depth that you can. If someone can come in on a Minor League [deal] or we trade for someone, it means Goins has to be optioned. It's a way to create more depth in the competition. Right now, we're not going to force anything. It would be that tandem of Goins and Izturis."
The top priority for the Blue Jays this offseason continues to be making an addition to the rotation. The asking price through both trades and free agency has been prohibitive, but the hope is that outlook will change at some point in January.
Despite the organization's vote of confidence in Goins, it's also possible the club could revisit its plans at second base. If that does eventually happen, here's a speculative look at who could become viable candidates now that the likes of Mark Ellis, Omar Infante and Robinson Cano -- who was never expected to sign with the Blue Jays -- are all off the board.
Dustin Ackley: Ackley's value has taken a hit following a disappointing 2013 that saw him hit just .253 with a .660 OPS. Despite the subpar results, there's still plenty of upside for thesecond overall pick of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. Ackley is projected to start for the Mariners in the outfield, but played 142 games at second in 2012 and has proven to be a very versatile fielder. Seattle's asking price likely will be relatively high with the Yankees, Mets and Padres having reportedly already checked in on his availability.
Danny Espinosa: Espinosa appears headed for a utility role with the Nationals next season, but will at least have a chance to compete for the starting job at second with Anthony Rendon during Spring Training. Espinosa spent the majority of the 2013 season in the Minors, but before that had back-to-back seasons with at least 17 home runs. The problem with Espinosa, though, is his high strikeout rate as evidenced by his 189 whiffs in 594 at-bats in '12.
Brandon Phillips: Phillips is the biggest name on this list, but comes at a hefty pricetag with $50 million owed to him over the next four years. That's likely too pricey for the Blue Jays, but Cincinnati still appears open to the idea of moving him this offseason. Phillips remains a Gold Glove-caliber defender, but is coming off a down year at the plate which saw him hit just .261 with a .706 OPS in 151 games.
Dan Uggla: Toronto had interest in Uggla before he was traded to the Braves before the 2011 season. A lot has changed since then, though, and it seems very unlikely the Blue Jays would take a chance on a player that is owed $26 million over the next two seasons. Uggla's numbers in 2013 are comparable to what J.P. Arencibia did this past season and he's not exactly known as an elite defender. Atlanta would have to take on some of Uggla's salary to make any deal possible, but even if that were to happen, he doesn't seem to be a fit for the Blue Jays.
Jamey Carroll: Instead of going with a bona fide starter, the Blue Jays could instead decide to add a player that would compete for the job during Spring Training. Toronto has interest in Carroll according to a report by Sportsnet, but he would be a questionable fit with the Blue Jays considering he managed to hit just .211 with a .518 OPS in 73 games last year for the Royals and Twins.