The Toronto Blue Jays’ first major injury of 2015 came before the team had even played a single spring training game.

Michael Saunders—acquired during the offseason in exchange for pitcher J.A. Happ—tore the meniscus in his left knee while shagging fly balls during batting practice, per Gregor Chisholm of According to Saunders, he heard a pop in his knee after stepping on a soft patch of grass that surrounded a sprinkler head.

While Saunders will wait for a second opinion, the initial prognosis for his injury is surgery that will likely keep him out until the All-Star break.

Losing Saunders for an extended period of time could turn into a huge problem for the Blue Jays. The 28-year-old was expected to be Toronto’s starting left fielder heading into the 2105 season. He hit .273/.341/.450 with eight home runs, 34 RBI and 38 runs scored in 78 games last season for the Seattle Mariners.

With the departure of Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus, the Blue Jays don’t have a lot of major league-ready outfield depth in the organization. The team is expected to play rookie Dalton Pompey in the centre field. Now, with Saunders’ injury, Toronto will likely be forced to go with another unproven player in left field.

While Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos could decide to make a trade for an outfielder, it’s worth keeping in mind that Saunders is expected to be back before or around the All-Star break. So giving up significant assets to acquire a player who might only play every day for a few months may not be the best course of action.

If the Blue Jays decide to go with an in-house replacement for Saunders, Kevin Pillar and Ezequiel Carrera are likely the favorites to win the job out of the spring training. Both Pillar (.641 career OPS) and Carrera (.645 career OPS) have limited offensive upside, though.

Other non-roster invitees to camp who could have a chance to win the job include Chris Dickerson, Caleb Gindl and Andy Dirks (who is in minor league camp while rehabbing an injury).

Of course, it’s also likely that Toronto opts to go with a platoon of multiple players in left field rather than just handing the job outright to a single player.

The biggest issue that could potentially arise from losing Saunders is Toronto’s lineup becoming too top-heavy. Currently, the top five hitters in the Blue Jays lineup are: Jose Reyes, Russell Martin, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson. That should be one of the best groups of top five hitters in MLB this season. 

Following those five hitters, though, Toronto’s lineup sees a significant drop off.

With unproven players such as Justin Smoak and Pompey expected to see plenty of playing time. Toronto’s starting second baseman hasn’t been chosen yet, but chances are that it will be utility man Maicer Izturis or rookie Devon Travis. Saunders was supposed to bridge the gap between the top and bottom parts of Toronto’s batting order, but his injury just adds another unproven player into the mix.

With there still being more than a month remaining before the start of the new season, it will be interesting to see how Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays deal with their first major challenge of 2015.


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