The Blue Jays have selected the contract of veteran infielder Joe Panik, as first indicated on the league transactions log at MLB.com. Right-hander Yennsy Diaz was placed on the 60-day injured list in a corresponding roster move. Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith tweets that the move is indeed official, adding that Panik had an opt-out clause in his contract, which necessitated the transaction. It’s also likely that with the league instructing teams to send non-40-man players home (if they’re safely able to do so), the Jays wanted to act quickly to ensure that Panik is able to remain with the group.
The 29-year-old Panik was the Giants’ first-round pick back in 2011 and ascended to the role of everyday second baseman in San Francisco by 2014. He held that role late into the 2019 season, but the Giants, amid a rebuild phase and hoping to evaluate a younger wave of long-term pieces, designated Panik for assignment in early August and released him shortly thereafter. He quickly signed on with the Mets and finished out the year in a part-time role there.
This past season marked a second consecutive rough year at the plate for Panik, who slashed a combined .249/.311/.334 in 883 plate appearances from 2018-19. That’s a far cry from the quality .282/.345/.408 (105 OPS+) that Panik posted from 2014-17 — a stretch wherein he made the 2015 All-Star Game and won a Gold Glove in 2016. Injuries have surely played a part in his downturn. Since 2015, a stress fracture in his back, multiple bouts of concussion symptoms, thumb surgery and a groin strain have all sent Panik to the injured list. He avoided the IL in 2019, although the litany of injuries certainly could have had a lingering effect on his play.
Prior to the league’s coronavirus shutdown, though, Panik looked quite comfortable in camp with the Jays. It’s only 10 games and 26 plate appearances, but Panik went 8-for-21 with a pair of homers, a triple and more walks (four) than strikeouts (three). It’s difficult to glean too much from that limited showing, but the Blue Jays were impressed enough to add Panik to the roster, thus locking in a $2.5M base salary for the veteran infielder.
A bench role may be likelier for Panik than a starting role, as Cavan Biggio’s youth and his .364 on-base percentage in 100 big-league games last season will probably get him the nod in that regard. Biggio hit .234/.364/.429 with 16 home runs, 17 doubles, a pair of triples and 14 steals in 430 plate appearances as a rookie, and the Blue Jays will surely want to give him a large role to see if he can solidify himself as the primary second baseman for years to come. But Panik is plenty capable of playing both up-the-middle positions — he was drafted as a shortstop but moved to second base due to Brandon Crawford’s presence in San Francisco — and could conceivably be asked to be a backup option at third base as well.
As for the 23-year-old Diaz, it’s not yet clear what his actual injury is. The Jays haven’t made a formal announcement of the roster move yet, however, so details will surely emerge when they publicly acknowledge the transaction. Diaz ranks 26th among Jays farmhands at FanGraphs and 29th at MLB.com. He spent the 2019 season with their Double-A club, pitching to a 3.74 ERA with 7.2 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.75 HR/9 and a 40% ground-ball rate before appearing in a single big-league game last September.
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