Michael Saunders, the auspicious Blue Jays' starting left fielder, made one wrong move on his field of dreams and left his season in ruins and his baseball club wanting in the outfield.
Saunders, the 28-year-old from Victoria, suffered an embarrassing knee injury Wednesday, when he stepped on an exposed sprinkler head in the outfield while catching balls. He tore the meniscus in his left knee and will require surgery that will likely keep him out of the lineup until July.
"We won't be using that outfield any more," Toronto manager John Gibbons intoned here on Thursday, referring to one of the baseball diamonds at the Bobby Mattick Training Center, where the Blue Jays conduct their spring training workouts.
The sorry saga has thrown the Blue Jays off their spring training plans. Their starting outfield is suddenly Jose Bautista in right, with your best guess in centre and now in left.
Gibbons was asked to list the potential candidates he is now considering to play in left field during Saunders's absence.
"Just go through the roster," the manager said. "If it says outfield by his name, put his name in there."
Gibbons said one of the players the Blue Jays will consider using there is Danny Valencia, which would seem a bit of a stretch.
Valencia spent time at both first and third base last season but has yet to patrol the outfield during his five years in the majors.
Dig a little deeper and you'll find that Valencia played a little outfield in 2013 at the Triple-A level – four games in left and one game in right. That is the extent of his outfielding résumé.
Chris Colabello, who was selected off waivers from the Minnesota Twins by the Blue Jays in December, will also get a look, the manager says. Colabello has 30 games of experience patrolling the outfield, all of them in right.
The leading candidate will likely be Kevin Pillar, who was battling rookie Dalton Pompey for the starting spot in centre. At the very least, the injury to Saunders means Pillar makes the team as the fourth outfielder.
Saunders was shagging fly balls on the field in question during an optional workout for position players on Wednesday morning. The first official workout for position players will take place on Friday.
He was in left field and casually loping to make a catch when he wrenched his left knee after stepping on the sprinkler head.
And he heard something pop.
"Just kind of lightly jogging after a ball and hit a sprinkler head and my foot got jammed," a dejected Saunders, propped up on crutches, said outside the Blue Jays clubhouse at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
"To be honest, I don't know exactly how it happened. It stopped me in my tracks and I heard a pop. I was almost scared to find out, so I just kind of did my best to get off the field and try to not draw any attention to myself until I saw the training staff."
The sprinkler heads are recessed into the ground and can be hard to see.
When he first learned of the injury, a disbelieving Alex Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays' general manager, headed over to the field for a first-hand inspection.
"Just wanted to see where it was," Anthopoulos said in an e-mail, adding that a grounds crew will take a look at the sprinkler system to ensure it is safe for the players.
"Just one of those things," Anthopoulos said earlier in the day in an interview. "Bad luck, tough loss, but we'll get through it. And he will be back."
Although Anthopoulos said he hopes to fill the opening in left internally, he didn't waste any time hitting the phones to see who might be available in a trade.
And he has a pretty good bargaining chip in catcher Dioner Navarro, who is unhappy in his role as backup catcher to Russell Martin and has requested a trade.
"I actually started making some calls [Wednesday night] with respect to seeing who else could be out there," Anthopoulos said. "There are some teams out there with some outfield depth.
"The one thing is if we do something it would be toward the end of spring. We'll see what we have here internally first. But we'll still be open-minded about going outside."
The injury has devastated Saunders, who was excited about the prospect of playing in his native Canada after the Blue Jays obtained him from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for pitcher J.A. Happ during the off-season.
Saunders is a left-handed bat with some pop who hit .273 with the Mariners last season. He also provides good speed on the basepaths.
Wednesday night "was really tough for me, especially when we got the prognosis," Saunders said. "Nobody's more excited to be here than me."
He believes the mental hurdles will be harder for him to overcome than the physical battle he will face recovering from knee surgery.
"I know I'm going to be okay," he said. "It could be worse. It's not an ACL [anterior cruciate ligament]. We double-checked on it, so that's a positive.
"My goal is to be in major-league games by All-Star break and hopefully sooner."
The Blue Jays' first game of the spring training schedule is Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Dunedin. Gibbons said he is leaning toward Aaron Sanchez to make the start.