Meanwhile, Out In The Outfield…

In the last few weeks, we’ve examined most parts of the Blue Jays roster, with needs highlighted and potential solutions. Today, we look at the last part of the roster, the outfield. It’s an area that all agree needs to improve if the team is going to compete any time soon. While it has a busload of potential players to fill the spots, unlike the infield, it lacks any real hot prospects of “sure things.” The minor league system is also far from loaded with talent in positions “7-8-9”. Ross Atkins has said it’s an area he’s focused on, for what that’s worth.

The Jays used any number of outfielders in ’19, including Jonathan Davis, Anthony Alford and Derek Fisher, but the core trio for most of the season consisted of Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel. Individually, none of them is a bad player. Problem is, all things considered, probably only Gurriel is even league average and collectively that makes for a bad outfield. Weak fielding, weak hitting. An upgrade is necessary, preferably two.

Of the three, Gurriel is the one I’d most like to keep as an everyday player for ’20. He’ll only be 26 next spring, and has shown slow but steady improvement over his two seasons in Toronto. He’s also had his share of injuries, making his two year total a one-year like total of 149 games played, over which he hit .279 with 31 homers and 85 RBI, and a .499 slugging percentage. However, the latter jumped up noticeably in ’19 from .446 to .541. He’s been a negative defensive WAR both seasons, but seemed to be rounding into shape as an OK-ish left fielder after being moved out from the middle infield where he began his major league career. If he could stay healthy he could probably become an average left fielder who could shine with 25-30 homers and a close to .300 average. I’m OK with him being the opening day LF… but wouldn’t turn down a good offer for him if another team wanted him as part of a package to part with a starting pitcher or star outfielder.

Outfield help could come in the usual manner of ways – trade or free agency. This year’s crop of MLB free agents in the outfield is a little sub-par, but not without any hope. Marcell Ozuna is interesting, but with a combination of A) his subpar defense, B) his drop-off in numbers in St. Louis compared to his early career in Miami and C) his standout star performance in the post-season, one has to think his salary might not end up close to his actual value to the team. I’d check in on him, but assuming he’s not going to go for something like three years and $30-36M, I’d move along. I expect I’d be moving along.

More viable options would be Alex Gordon or Corey Dickerson. Both would improve the outfield “D” with their gloves and throwing arms – Gordon’s won Gold Gloves the last three years and Dickerson took one home in 2018. Both hit left-handed too, something of a weakness in the 2019 Jays lineup. Of the two, I’d focus more on Dickerson, being younger (31 to Gordon’s 36 by spring), earning less than half of what Gordon did last year and thus perhaps looking for a little less to sign, and seeming to offer more of an offensive upside. Indeed, Gordon’s hitting isn’t anything special at all – he has a .258 career average and his .266 last year was highest since 2015, but he’s come in below league average OPS for the last 4-straight seasons. However, his great glove still makes him a “+” WAR player annually.

Dickerson on the other hand, is perhaps still on the ascent of his career. It’s noteworthy his numbers didn’t drop off after leaving Colorado as many expected. Last year in Pennsy (splitting the year between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia before having his season ended prematurely with a fractured foot), he got in half a year’s worth of games – 78 – and hit .304 with a great .906 OPS and 12 homers, 59 RBI. His career average is .286.

Another name we’ve heard is Kevin Pillar . Pillar is like a younger Gordon… sort of a Gordon-lite. He’s popular in Toronto,where he spent his first six seasons (and got in 5 games last year before being traded to SF) and has made some of the most spectacular catches seen in the Rogers Centre this century. He did hit career highs with 21 homers and 88 RBI last year, and averages 38 doubles per year over the past three. The downside though is his speed is starting to leave, and his hitting has always been below league-average due to his impatience. Last year he managed only 18 walks against 89 strikeouts and the best on base of his career was a middling .314 in 2015. That was the year his WAR peaked, at 4.9; since it’s dropped by the year to 3.5, 3, 2.5 and just 1 last year. I wouldn’t rule out signing Kevin again if demand for him is low enough to keep the money low, as he’s popular, a good clubhouse guy and still a bit better than average in the field. But I wouldn’t look to him to be an everyday CF anymore and wouldn’t break the bank to bring him back.

However, just because the crop of free agent major league outfielders is a bit weak doesn’t mean the total field is a bust. This winter two Japanese stars are wanting to come on over – Shogo Akiyama and Yushitomo Tsutsugo. Both hit left-handed. Come spring time, Akiyama will be 32, Tsutsogo 28. Of the two, Akiyama is speedier and a better defensive outfielder, being a star CF for the Seibu Lions. Tsutsogo is a big-time power hitter with weak defensive skills but the ability to play the infield corners as well as left field. Akiyama also comes with the bonus of being an unrestricted free agent whereas the younger player will require posting fees be paid to his old club, Yokohama.

Akiyama is durable and a 9-year Nippon league veteran with a .301 career average which has risen to .323/.322 and .303 through the past three. He also averages over 70 walks a year and has 10+ steals seven of his nine campaigns. In 2016,he hit a Suzuki-like .359 with 216 hits in 143 games. He’s a five-time All Star there with great outfield speed. The Cubs are said to be hot in pursuit of him.

The Jays (as well as the Twins) have been heavily linked to the younger Tsutsogo in rumors. If so, they’d better strike soon – the odd international rules mean he’ll have to sign in North America in the next 10 days or play another year in Japan – I don’t make the rules, so don’t ask me why. He’s played 130+ games every year from 2014 on (remember, their season is about a month shorter than ours) and posts a .284 career average with a .525 career slugging percentage. Even though his OPS last year fell to a 6-year low of .899, he still hit .272 with 29 homers. Over the past four years, he averages 87 walks a season (about what Kevin Pillar would get cumulatively in four) and 35 homers. One unnamed exec has said (according to Jon Paul Morosi at mlb.com) that he questions if he has the skills to be a major league left fielder, but his bat makes it worth the while for an AL team to take a chance on it. They could always DH him or put him on first base if he flops in the outfield.

Based on past performance of hitters coming over from Japan, we should expect a drop-off but not a terrible one when they hit the MLB. It’s not unreasonable to expect Akiyama to perhaps be a .280 hitter with 10-15 steals and a good on-base over here; Tsutsogo could potentially be a 30-35 home run guy here with the longer season – particularly in the AL East with our parks.

I’d take serious run at bringing in Akiyama but also be in touch with Tsutsogo. If Akiyama seemed to want too much, or was too focused on going to the Windy city, I’d make a quick offer to Tsutsogo of three years and about $30M (they would also need to pay the Japanese team several million if successful.) A side-effect of the Cubs interest would be if they sign Akiyama, they’re expected to trade Albert Almora Jr., another Kevin Pillar-like player (great person, very good fielder, weak hitter) who might be of use to Toronto. Badfinger 20 mentions that the Dodgers might well trade Joc Pederson, another lefty who never quite became the superstar he was expected to be in his 2015 rookie season but still is a solid hitter (36 homers last year) who at least will take a walk – 50 last year meaning a .339 on base.

Options aplenty, we have to hope Ross Atkins will shuffle the deck and bring on at least one star-quality everyday outfielder, another backup-type one (as in Pillar, maybe speedy Rajai Davis) and be willing to thin out the crop of existing Jays to make roster room for them.

Next time, we’ll have an overview of what the 2020 roster could look like … and start to look at the Hall of Fame and who should be getting in next year.

13 comments

  1. badfinger20

    Well if you want some excitement in the press…there is always Puig! Just joking…but he does put up good numbers. I would see if he would take a one year deal.
    Brett Gardner would be a good tutor for a year. He had a 4.0 WAR last season also. If they can get Dickerson though it would be smart.

    • Dave

      Yep, actually sort of had Gardner in mind too but forgot about him– definitely like you say, a good veteran who knows how to win. I wonder if he won’t retire though…. still, a very valid point and a guy they should look at.

    • Dave

      So what do you think of the Cole contract? I actually hit it spot on, on twitter a couple of days back, when someone was asking what Strasburg would mean to Cole… I said NY would up it to 9 years and about $324M (or $36M a year); they tweeted back “I wouldn’t go 9 years for a pitcher” which I said I agreed with- but I thought the bidding war for him would lead to that anyway. Yankees may regret it in 4 years or so but could win a WS in meantime. And already I’m hearing New York would like to ship Happ back to Toronto… bound to effect the two LA teams too… will be interesting

      • badfinger20

        From what I read the Dodgers offered 290 million for 8 years.
        No 9 years is crazy…all of that money and you are paying for 4-6 years if you are lucky unless he is the next Verlander or Nolan Ryan. They better win a World Series for it to pay off. They very well might though.

        Personally I think the Strasburg contract added dollars to Cole.
        I’m surprised the Dodgers went that high…now they will target Rendon probably.

      • Dave

        At least things are unfolding quickly this winter compared to last. Yep, Yankees will probably rue that contract to some extent by 2025 BUT they are rich enough they can absorb a big loss on one playerdown the road if need be, and like you say if it gets them back to the World Series even once, and they get three good years from him, they probably consider it a win.
        Now Rendon’s off the Dodgers agenda too – another contract I think may bite the team (Angels) before long… I have no doubt he’s a solid player but not sure that 2019 wasn’t a career year for him . $35M a year seems pretty high… Josh Donaldson’s got to be ecstatic about it — I’m not a huge fan of Josh but when he’s healthy I’d take him over Rendon. However, that health caveat is a big one!

      • badfinger20

        Dave, I’m dissapointed on this one. Rendon wasn’t as bad as Cole’s contract because you don’t have to worry as much about Tommy John and you have him every day…. I know it’s a lot and yes it is crazy… but the Dodgers just flat out refuse to sign any marquee player. Yes they tried on Cole…They didn’t even offer Rendon anything…now they are talking about trading their prospects who they love for Lindor…Why would you do that when you have Rendon for money and no prospects lost? You have Seager for shortstop…

        It’s a good-bad thing with the Dodger stance at this time. In one way I admire them staying under the Tax BUT…they are always coming up short becasue of a lack of a consistent player in the playoffs. Would Cole fix everything? Would Rendon? I don’t know but they LOVE to gamble on short, inexpensive contracts with players that have been injured. Signing AJ Pollock last year… he missed a ton of games to no ones surprise. I know what they are thinking… the games they get out of him is worth the money because it’s short and because they are so deep.

        I’m scared if they sign Josh because of his injury status. I’m a fan of his but everytime he runs I’m wondering if he will pull something. Fans are sounding off… they have an 8 billion dollar TV contract coming in that covers a high payroll.

        So yea…sorry I had to vent some… Dodger fans have no right bitching when they win the division every year but perception is they absolutely refuse to sign big free agents…they hang on to prospects like they are gold and then have to trade them because they won’t sign free agents.

        But yes…I do think it was high for Rendon…it was in line with Nolan Arenado though…Nolan got 8/260…so that was the template. It is a crazy market…In 4 years he will not be the same player. Geez Dave…sorry for the book I wrote lol.

      • Dave

        No problem at all…interesting to get your perspective as LA fan. I had no idea their TV deal was that big – how many years does that cover? Anyway, huge market & big revenue, they could afford to make a splash & go all out to win it all…& show fans they mean business.
        Pollock I thought right away was a dubious signing…over-rated & injury prone.
        I wouldn’ t put Rendon in the Arenado category, but I guess lots do. Maybe LA will try to trade for him…cost would be very high in young talent though, I’ d bet.

      • badfinger20

        Thanks for hearing the rant… the contract is for 25 years… 8.35 billion.
        That is what me as a Dodger fan would like to see… I’m not saying every year but once would be nice. They have been under the cap for a while now.

        They are very shrewd and don’t spend stupid money anymore which is great but one signing would not hurt of someone that could help you win.

        They only made that dumb trade with Boston to get Dodger fans back after McCourt. They build almost all from within which is wonderful but get someone to go with them. I’m afraid they won’t resign Bellinger when he comes ready…

      • Dave

        LA and Toronto seem to be alike in one way this off-season: both are linked to just about every FA or player rumored to be traded, but have done little. I keep seeing that Dddgers are expected to trade for Lindor, or Arrenado, or maybe both – but can’t imagine they would want to give up enough young talent to get either, let alone both.
        Blue Jays signed some Japanese pitcher yesterday that no one had really even mentioned in free agency – seems to be a bit above average Japanese pitcher, who maybe will translate to an average #4 or 5 starter here. It came as a surprise to most, I think

      • badfinger20

        Yea from what the GM said that if they can’t get top shelf talent there is no reason to trade or sign a free agent…well you have to pay for top shelve talent.
        No I don’t see them trading for Lindor now…Everyone wants Lux and they will not give him up. I’ve heard the Jays are in on Ryu.
        I’ve also heard about Betts from Boston but taking David Price and his 96 million 3 year contract with it for lower prospects. That I wouldn’t mind…Price is not great anymore but if they could get Betts I would not mind.

        I read about that Japanese pitcher also…I hope he does well for the Jays. You never know how they will translate…pardon the pun but he may well do very well over here.

      • Dave

        Lux and Smith, is it, your young catcher. Can’t see a Betts or Lindor deal without both of them being included and can’t see LA doing so. Now Price, that’s a different story. I rather expect he will be traded but he might not draw a king’s ransom anymore, particularly if Boston don’t pick up most of his pay. He’d be a good addition to most pitching staffs still. After seeing how little cleveland got for Kluber, I imagine Sox would let DP go for next to nothing (maybe a single AAA pitcher or a backup infielder) if the other team agreed to take on $85 or 90M of the money left due Price.
        Jays are serious about getting Ryu, or at least so they have everyone believe. We’ll see. He’d certainly make it a competitive rotation and deliver a message that the team is trying to win.

      • badfinger20

        They won’t trade Smith because he is the starting catcher…they have another catcher that is ranked just as high as Smith named Ruiz…since they have Smith they would trade him. They were talking about if they took the Price contract that less prospects would have to go for Betts. It would be Price and Betts…that is a lot of money off their books and Boston just had to pay the highest Tax in their history of 13 million.

        I think Ryu would fit well in there. He is a true pitcher not a thrower.

      • Dave

        yep, a lot to be said for pitchers like that. As well I think he is good on throwing groundballs- flyball pitchers usually have extra trouble in AL East

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