With Saunders out, left field open to competition

Pillar, Dirks, Carrera, Dickerson in running

With Saunders out, left field open to competition

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays entered Spring Training with competitions at second base, center field, closer and the rotation. They can now add left field to that list.

Starting outfielder Michael Saunders sustained a torn meniscus in his left knee while shagging fly balls Wednesday and is expected to be out until at least the All-Star break.

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said his preference is to fill the position internally. The leading candidates to step in are Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera, Chris Dickerson and possibly even infielder Danny Valencia.

"There are going to be opportunities for the guys in camp right now," Anthopoulos said. "Whoever we have in camp, there's going to be a great opportunity there. I started making some calls [Wednesday] night with respect to seeing who else can be out there.

Saunders on torn meniscus

"There are some teams out there with some outfield depth. If we do something, it would be toward the end of spring. We'll see what we have internally here first."

The most likely candidate of the group could be Pillar, who initially was the favorite to win the fourth outfielder spot. He has spent parts of the past two seasons in Toronto while posting a .239 average with five home runs and 20 RBIs in 89 career games.

A potential dark horse could be Andy Dirks, who missed all of last season with a back injury after spending three years on Detroit's roster. Dirks' best season came in 2013 when he hit .256 with a .686 OPS in a career-high 131 games. The 29-year-old is expected to resume baseball activities in approximately seven to 10 days and might join the big league camp when he's ready.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons also raised the possibility of using Valencia in the role. Valencia has never played the outfield in the Majors and made just five appears there in the Minors, but Toronto will give him a look this spring to see if he's capable.

"We have some guys here that we like," Anthopoulos said. "Same way they have to earn their way onto the roster. Unless there's someone clearly better. Saunders is out for a few months and we're going to get him back.

"I don't think you're going to see us make a move for a long-term outfield, three- to four-year outfielder. You would have to factor in, if we were to go outside, how would they factor when Saunders would come back."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.