Blue Jays trade Santiago Espinal to Reds, clearing infield roster jam

DUNEDIN, Fla. — The Toronto Blue Jays traded popular utility infielder Santiago Espinal to the Cincinnati Reds for right-handed minor-league pitcher Chris McElvain on Wednesday, the club announced. The move clears a logjam in their infield with Opening Day looming and adds to their pitching depth as injuries mount on their staff.

With the regular season only a week away, the Blue Jays were facing a 26-man roster crunch with their glut of multi-positional infielders. Essentially, the Blue Jays have three bench spots available, but had more than double the number of players — both rostered and non-rostered — who could capably fill them, including Espinal, Davis Schneider, Ernie Clement, Spencer Horwitz, Daniel Vogelbach, Joey Votto and Nathan Lukes.

Trading Espinal whittles down that number and likely clears the way for Clement to make the Opening Day roster as their multi-positional utility man. Clement, 27, is having an impressive showing this spring, batting .375 with a 1.090 OPS with three home runs.

Without Espinal functioning as the team’s other second baseman alongside Cavan Biggio, Schneider’s chances of making the club also increase. While Schneider hasn’t hit as well this spring as he did last August during his spectacular MLB debut, the 25-year-old fills an acute Blue Jays need as a potent right-handed power threat off the bench, especially against left-handed pitchers. Schneider will also offer a counter to the left-handed bench bat role that’ll likely go to either Vogelbach or Votto.

The Blue Jays are dealing with key injuries to their pitching staff, and this trade also helps them add to their pitching depth with McElvain. A 2022 eighth-round pick out of Vanderbilt, McElvain split last season between Low A and High A, where he compiled a 3.75 ERA in 23 outings (19 starts). He struck out 87 and walked 41 in 96 innings in his first full professional season.

The Blue Jays first acquired Espinal in 2018 from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Steve Pearce, who went on to win the World Series MVP that season. Espinal worked his way up Toronto’s system alongside the team’s most noteworthy prospects, including Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Espinal debuted with Toronto during the 2020 season and became a defensive Swiss Army knife, capably handling multiple positions while offering plenty of contact with his bat. Espinal’s best season came in 2022 when he batted .271/.320/.391 in the first half and rode that to his first All-Star selection. However, last season Espinal’s play dipped on both sides of the ball, which was particularly concerning on the defensive end since Espinal’s above-average glove had been his calling card.


Down another player, Reds acquire Santiago Espinal from Blue Jays

Other players who profile similarly to Espinal were outperforming him this spring, and his job looked in jeopardy. By moving him, the Blue Jays netted a pitcher while sending Espinal to an up-and-coming Reds team that will be able to give him more playing time. Trading Espinal also clears a precious 40-man roster spot, which the Blue Jays will need in order to add a backup catcher — either Brian Serven or Payton Henry — to replace the injured Danny Jansen, as well as any other non-roster player whom they choose to select to the team.

An unheralded prospect who was accustomed to flying under the radar throughout his career, Espinal was a popular player in the Blue Jays clubhouse and had a strong bond with Bichette and Guerrero. His presence will surely be missed by teammates and fans alike.

(Photo of Espinal: Jeff Dean / Getty Images)

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