How about Shannon Stewart?

Among the top priorities for Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi this offseason include solidifying the left field position, as well as the leadoff spot in the batting order. This corner asks: Why not do both with one move? In other words, why not sign veteran free agent and former Blue Jay Shannon Stewart?

Stewart, who will turn 34 in February, spent 2007 on a one-year $1-million contract with the Oakland Athletics. In 146 games, he batted a team-high .290 (.345 on-base percentage) with 12 homers and 48 RBIs. That performance will certainly call for a raise in ’08, and Stewart may be looking for a deal longer than one year. Still, the Blue Jays would be wise to have a discussion with the outfielder.

As it stands right now, Ricciardi appears content with having Reed Johnson and 40-year-old Matt Stairs share the left field duties in ’08. There are a number of problems with this scenario, however. First off, there are question marks surrounding Johnson’s ability to regain his 2006 form. After returning from surgery in July last year, the 30-year-old hit just .232 (56-for-241). Even more disconcerting were his 48 strikeouts compared to just 14 walks. Meanwhile, virtually no one expects Stairs to replicate his numbers from last season. Ideally, the veteran should be used for the occasional start in the outfield, as well as at first base.

The additional bonus that Shannon Stewart brings to the table is his ability to bat leadoff, something the Blue Jays sorely lacked in 2007. Alex Rios spent a good chunk of the season in the leadoff spot, but he is better suited for the middle of the order. Not only has he shown the ability to hit for power and drive in runs, but he also amasses the high strikeout totals (team-high 103 in ’07) that come with the territory. Stewart, meanwhile, struck out just 60 times last year. A handful of leg injuries have slowed him down on the basepaths, though that isn’t much of a hindrance, as Ricciardi and the Blue Jays have shown no desire to steal bases in recent years anyways.

With the scenario as it stands today, Stairs would get into games against some right-handed pitchers in 2008. With Stewart, however, there’s no need to sit him against righties or lefties. For his career (12 seasons), he has batted .293 against left-handers and .299 against right-handers.

This, of course, brings up the question: Do the Blue Jays then let Johnson go? After all, he is up for arbitration this winter after making $3.075 million in 2007. That could be money better used to sign the veteran Stewart.

The verdict? Go with Stewart.

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