|Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures|
There are many story lines going into Blue Jays Spring Training, but none more compelling than the left field showdown. Will it be Travis "Meat Sweats" Snider or Eric "Chocolate Thunder" Thames who wins the spot?
Were this scenario to play out a few years ago, there might be enough room for both Travis and Eric to coexist on the roster. However, due to Snider's stunted development and Thames' fast track to the majors, here we are at an impasse.
It's a veritable logjam with a total of seven possible players who could potentially patrol the outfield. But there are only so many spots on the roster for the three outfield positions. And with two of them already spoken for, the most hotly contested battle will be in the left corner.
There really is a lot on the line here, as I believe Travis Snider will be the one playing for his life. And I don't think there's enough room for both corner outfielders on the roster. It will likely be either one or the other: Travis Snider or Eric Thames.
So who is the favourite? As Alex Anthopoulos said back in January, Snider is the more complete player but Eric Thames has a leg up on him going into Spring Training. AA also reiterated that if Travis doesn't hit, he won't be with the club this year.
Thames did tail off in the second half quite a bit, but he has a much larger and recent Major League sample size to work with compared to Snider's. In a "what have you done for me lately" world, that's where Eric Thames has the huge edge over Travis Snider.
The window for Snider to play his way onto the Opening Day roster is very short. He'll have to make a big impact in Spring Training if he wants to have a fighting chance at the starting left fielder's job. And if Travis Snider doesn't get the bat going during Spring Training, then he could very well start the year off in Las Vegas.
The other deciding factor at play here is Travis Snider only has one more option left to use. If the Blue Jays send Snider down to Las Vegas to start the season, that will burn his last option and he'll have to make the club out of Spring Training next season or he'll be at risk of being exposed to waivers.
Purely from a business standpoint, it makes the most sense to keep Snider on the roster. Using up that last option on a player with just over two years of service time puts the Blue Jays in a compromising position moving forward.
Ironically, if the Blue Jays send Travis down to AAA to start the season, they'll be commiting to keeping him on the big league roster in 2013 and beyond. Either that, or there's the risk of another team claiming him off waivers.
The alternative is Travis Snider breaks camp and stays on the 25-man roster the entire year. Then the club that last option year on Snider in their back pocket just in case. It's an out that could be worth its weight in gold.
Unlike the enigma that is Travis Snider, for the most part what you see is what you get with Eric Thames. He's going to strike out a lot, he's not going to take very many walks, but he will get a hold of a pitch every so often and remind us of his home run power.
I know it sounds like I'm completely writing off Thames after just one season, but here's the problem; unless he's the starting left fielder, I don't think Thames will find those everyday at bats he needs to improve here with the Blue Jays.
That being said, I would love for Eric Thames to prove me wrong. If he can put those brand new 20 inch pythons to work and lock down the left fielder's job, then all the power to him.
One of the things Thames has going for him is he has lots of room for improvement. He could be better defensively, and one way to do that is to learn the ropes day-in and day-out at the position.
Eric Thames bounced around between DH and the corner outfield positions last season, so some semblance of consistency at the position would probably help.
If I had to bet on a horse right now, I'd put my money on Travis Snider over Eric Thames in a short Spring Training stint. But we all know the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint.
In order to hold down that job the entire year, these guys will need to have consistent results. Because if they don't, I'm sure the front office won't hesitate to make the call down to Las Vegas and get the other man on the red eye to Toronto.
I definitely don't envy John Farrell and the coaching staff because they have a tough decision ahead of them. Eventually, they'll have to pick one or the other between Travis Snider and Eric Thames.
Were the decision up to me, my head says Thames, but my heart says Snider. Now may the best man win.