About That Outfield…

It’s not been a bad off-season for the Blue Jays so far. I always try to give credit where it’s due, and Ross Atkins deserves some credit for going out and improving the team’s rather anemic starting rotation, adding a legit Cy Young candidate in Hyun-jin Ryu as well as a couple of solid, inning-eating righties (Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson) and an under-the-radar Japanese pitcher, Shun Yamaguchi. No question that the team will hit the turf in March with a stronger rotation than they ended 2019 with.

However, there’s still work to be done. The front office took care of the question at first base by in a roundabout way trading with the Brewers. Toronto signed ex-Brewer Travis Shaw while in turn, Milwaukee nabbed Toronto’s first baseman for the past five years, Justin Smoak. But the elephant in the room remains the Blue Jays outfield. Everyone agrees it isn’t the OF of a competitive team, but thus far nothing’s been done to remedy the situation.

First let’s recap last year. Lourdes Gurriel, up until then a middle-infielder, was shifted into left field and played acceptably (though far from very well) in his new position, and hit quite well .277 with 20 homers and a .869 OPS in the just over half a season (84 games) he was on the active roster. No big problems there.

Center and right field weren’t so great though. Randal Grichuk, signed to a long-term deal before the season, was probably the best defender but still was hit-or-miss in the field and so-so at the plate. While he did lead the team with 31 HR and 80 RBI, his average was low (.232), his OPS very ordinary at .732 and he struck out nearly five times for every walk he took. Grichuk himself admitted that wasn’t good enough.

This left a whole range of Not Ready For Primetime Players filling in the outfield. Most notable of those was Teoscar Hernandez, who inexplicably was dropped into CF much of the time, despite being an obvious “full time DH” if ever there was one. He hit .230 with 26 homers and a .778 OPS. Add in much-vaunted (by management) Derek Fisher, who hit all of .161 in his 40 games, Anthony Alford – a former can’t miss prospect whose time appears to be running out to make a career out of baseball – who was .179 with one homer in 18 games, and Billy McKinney, a .215 hitter with a .696 OPS in 84 games. And suffice to say, none of those names was going to be mentioned in a conversation about Gold Gloves.

Using the new but currently in vogue “Outs above average” stat, which looks at every play and tries to rank its ease based on how far the runner has to run, how hard the ball is hit and so on, and gauge how hard it is to make the play, only Grichuk comes out with a positive rating. He was seen as adding 6 outs, and being 21st best among full-time OF in the majors. Not too bad, although viewers were sure to notice the day-to-day fluctuations of his fielding. Still that was much better than McKinney (-5 outs), Gurriel (-4) and Fisher who cost the team 3 outs in his limited use and caught the flyballs 4% less than an average fielder. In case you were wondering, the Twins slugger Eduardo Roasario was seen as the absolute worst outfielder by these definitions, with -17 outs.

So we have Gurriel, a decent young hitter who looks mediocre in left; Grichuk, a power hitter with a lack of plate discipline but fair fielding skills… and a bunch of guys who can’t hit, catch or throw. Not a good way to compete with the Yankees or Red Sox, even if the team does now have fairly decent pitching and a promising youthful infield. There’s a clear need for outside help in the outfield.

While there are any number of potential trade candidates, four pretty good OF remain on the free agent market. One hopes Toronto is talking to at least a couple of them. There’s highly-touted Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna, former-Jay Kevin Pillar, and the “wild card” in the mix, controversial Yasiel Puig.

Of the four, Puig probably has the highest ceiling, but also the most uncertainties with his health and demeanor. Pillar is likely the best defensive OF of the four, but the weakest hitter. Ozuna and Castellanos are Plan 1A and Plan 1B for a whole range of teams including the Cardinals , White Sox, Cubs and maybe Twins (although they may be spent out now after surprising the sports world by getting 3B Josh Donaldson on board.)

I ran a poll on Twitter and found that an overwhelming majority preferred Castallanos out of the four, by about 4:1 to the both Ozuna and Pillar. Not scientific but a good insight into fan perception of the quartet.

Do I agree? Well, I think any of the four could be beneficial. Let’s look at the four quickly.

Pillar is a known commodity who dominated the team’s “Best Defensive Plays of the Decade” tape. He’s still seen as an above-average defensive OF based on that “outs above average” and is reliable. He’s got 7 seasons under his belt, 6 with Toronto, and has logged 500+ at bats for the past five years. He averages 37 doubles a year over the past four seasons, has good speed and hit a career high 21 homers last year. However, his OPS has never been above the league average, something you’d rather hope an outfielder could do at least once or twice in a career!

Ozuna also has been around for 7 seasons, and has played 123 or more games for the past six. His on base percentage has been .320+ for the last four years and he’s generally around 2 on the WAR scale, although his monster 2017 (37 homers, .924 OPS) with Miami gave him a 6.1, seemingly an outlier of a year.

Castellanos suffered perhaps by playing most of his recent years in the terrible Tigers organization. He also has 7 years experience. He hit career highs last season with 27 HR and an .863 OPS but it’s widely noted that it was the tale of two seasons in one for Nick. With Detroit for much of the season, he had a .462 slugging percentage and one homer per 37 at bats . After being traded to the Cubs at the deadline, he skyrocketed to one homer per 13 at bats and a .646 slugging. If he’s really the Tiger Castallanos, he’s a decent, workaday, nothing unusual outfielder. If he’s the Cubby Castallanos, he’s a budding superstar, a possible 45 HR/125 RBI guy. So discerning which player he is will be of importance to any club wanting to sign him!

Puig too, has 7 years of service and is still only 29 which surprises some. He’s had health issues along the way (missing a cumulative 140 games between 2015-16) but has played 140+ games each of the past three. He’s got some speed, averaging 16 steals a year over the past three, and has posted decent OPS of .833, .820 and .785 over the past three years. He has some home run power and a strong arm. The problem with Yasiel seems to be primarily that he came up as an expected superstar but has developed only into a slightly above-average player, disappointing some therefore, and that he’s perceived as being something of a slacker. Determining whether that last part is true would be of vital import to any team looking at him.

Overall last season, Castellanos had the best WAR with 2.7, followed by Ozuna at 2.2, Pillar at 1.0 then Puig at 0.5. Strangely though, all four posted negative defensive WARS , which seems counter-intuitive given Pillar’s reputation and +outs above average. However, of the 4, only Castellanos had a truly bad defensive rating, of -1.5.

In short, any of the four could potentially be an upgrade for Toronto over Teoscar Hernandez, Billy McKinney or Derek Fisher . Which one would I prefer? Whichever one is willing to sign in Toronto on a one or two year deal that won’t break the bank, given that none of them are likely to be “drive-the-team-to-the-World-series-by-themselves” guys. My best bet is that Pillar would return to the team he knows well at a reasonable rate, or that as spring training draws nearer Puig could still find himself on the outside looking in and go for a one year deal with a low base rate and lots of incentives designed to show he is still a viable star and could really hammer the ball in the hitter-friendly AL East.

Get to those phones, Mr. Atkins!

16 comments

  1. badfinger20

    Ozuna reminds me of a poor mans Gary Sheffield. All the power in the world… he just doesn’t hit as well as Sheffield…of course, Sheffield is a borderline Hall of Famer… The Brewers won the Miami fire sale sweepstakes.

    I agree either guy will help. Who is the DH or do they switch that up game by game?

    • Dave

      Sheffield’s another player (like schilling although their opinions are wildly different) who probably would have been voted into the hall if he wasn’t so outspoken, and I gather unlikable when dealing with the press.
      Ozuna was a guy I “had on my radar” for the Jays last season, but the scarcity of top quality OF and his playoff performance have likely driven his price out of the realistic market… not that the Jays couldn’t afford to pay him or Castallanos, but the question is, if the bidding gets to the say, 5 year, $100M range, is it worth it?
      Looks like the team will DH “by committee” this year; they supposedly had made an offer to Edwin E, who would’ve been a full time DH I’m sure had he come back to Toronto.

      • Dave

        seems like it, especially this past post season. Million dollar question (more like $80, 100M question!) though is , is he going to have another 2017-type season or is his STL production (you know, maybe .275, 25 homers, .325 on base) the real him.

      • badfinger20

        It is an expensive chance some one would be taking. Maybe a high 2-3 year contract but he probably wouldn’t do it.

        Sorry about the cheating rant…but when I saw replay of Springer waiting to hit that curveball for a homerun off of Kershaw I wasn’t happy….again.

      • badfinger20

        Sorry, I hit send a little too quick. No 100M is not worth it for him. I like players having their role set but sometimes that is not possible.

        This cheating stuff has wreaked havoc with Boston and New York today. Yea I’m biased…but I think their title should have been stripped…No winner in 2017… Who wouldn’t give 5 million and their manager and GM for a World Series title? I knew it wouldn’t happen though.

      • Dave

        The pieces sure are falling… who would have guessed in November that Houston, Boston and NYM would all lose their manager from the same scandal?
        I think the punishment is justified and reasonable, though I certainly get where you and others are coming from who say they should lose the WS title. I woulda liked to have seen a bigger fine, mind you, but that’s apparently the limit Manfred could impose per the collective bargaining agreement. The loss of the 2 draft picks will haunt them more than the manager/GM/ asst. GM, in all likelihood.
        My thing with stripping the title is both that, though it was giving them an unfair advantage it likely didn’t change the outcome (and while maybe they won a game or two extra thanks to it in the regular season, they were in a lousy division anyway so would’ve romped the way through the season with none of this going on) but more importantly, it would open a jumbo-sized can of worms. Take away that World series, and you’re going to have to analyze every 2018 Boston game to see if they were doing the same, given the Cora connection, and potentially take theirs ((I’m NO Red sox fan so that would make me smile in a way)) but also what about the 90s and early-00s? What about teams who won because they had a number of stars taking PEDs and breaking the rules? How many infractions or retroactive admissions from the players about steroids before those Series’ would also be removed? Could end up with a lot of blank lines in the Almanac under “World Series Winners”
        That said, I think Manfred needs to make it clear now that this is what happened in the past. If it happens again moving forward, titles will be revoked if necessary and there will be even more suspensions, perhaps of the players as well as coaching and management.
        Semi-related topic : did you see today that Scott Brosius’ son is claiming Mike trout is using illegal HGH but has a “loophole”? Don’t know if there’s any credibility at all to that but the publicity (front page on Yahoo for example) sure isn’t what MLB needs right now!

      • badfinger20

        The reason I do think it changed the series…was one pitch. Game 4 I believe…it was the wild one. Kershaw never had lost a game with a 4 run spot…the whistling happened and Springer is waiting on a curveball and dumps it in the seats for a 3 run homer…that changed the game. In a 7 games series…that is alot. Guess who didn’t allow a run in that game? Wood…who they signed back. He said he changed signals every at bat…so why didn’t them all is my question?

        Now saying all of that…yes it was more than I thought he would give them and it will hurt…I hope it acts as enough for other teams not to try things. They actually lose 4 picks in total I think…in two years

        I totally get it…I am very biased as you know…that hurt the careers of Kershaw and possibly Darvish. It would open too many can of worms so I do get it.

        I just read the Brosius comment…I hope it’s not true…baseball doesn’t need that about their best player on top of what is going on. He said it’s a thyroid problem.

      • Dave

        Is it 4 draft picks? Well that will hit them even harder, especially these days with so much riding on developing your own talent and having good semi-pro ready players ready for the pick.
        Wood seems like a smart, savvy pitcher – I’ll take that over pure speed any time.
        It’s tough for LA and for Darvish too (bet he would have got a better contract still had he done better in the World Series), so I can see that angle but a lot of hypotheticals there- Springer’s a power hitter, maybe he would have known it was pitch anyway from the delivery etc. Doesn’t look good for MLB or Astros though… and don’t even get me started on the Cardinals computer hacking scheme…
        Bet that gal with Mets will be next job casualty from it… I think she’s an Asst GM in Mets… spoke out and criticized Fiers publically and said he should have just tipped his teammates off and turned his head after Manfred expressly told them NOT to comment on it. I like that she’s a female who worked her way up to front office but didn’t like HER after reading an interview with her earlier. Seemed a huge conflict of interest that she was doing double duty working in Mets office and on air for ESPN. How neutral will she be if game of week is say, Mets vs Reds… not to mention isn’t that a problem if she the ESPN reporter is in a clubhouse of one of the other 29 teams, talking to players when she’s on payroll in New york?

  2. badfinger20

    Yea 2 picks this year and 2 picks next year. Oh yea everything could have happened anyway but we will never know. Darvish had just been unhittable before this and even Kershaw beat them in Dodger Stadium. I’m just closer to it because I watched every second of it and have a rooting interest. If it would have been the Brewers vs the Astros…I still would be pissed at this but it would not be as personal.

    Why in the heck would she criticize the guy when it’s not in her backyard? Well I guess she was mad over Carlos Beltran…She should have known better than to do that. It will/should come back to bite her…baseball is stealing some of football’s press right now…for all the wrong reasons.

    • Dave

      What you say makes sense- I would’ve been very pissed off if it was the blue Jays in the world series against a team doing that.
      I hope teams learn from this, but not sure they will. Probably first result will be seeing a lot of audio engineers hired to LISTEN to every at bat!

      • badfinger20

        Oh yes…there will be more cheating. Different ways but cheating. I dont’ mind as much if there is a defense agasint it. With this there was no defense really except changing signs at every at bat…and that is crazy…

        LOL don’t put it past them!

      • Dave

        going back to an earlier post- wow, were you as surprised as me that Ozuna went for just 1 year and $18M? The going to Atlanta was a minor surprise to me, but taking less than 3Y at about $22M a year really dumbfounded me.
        A lot of Toronto fans are clammering for Arenado, and no question he’s a perennial MVP candidate, but big Q to me is how much Rockies would demand in return? Are Dodgers faithful still hoping to get him?

      • badfinger20

        Yes I thought of you when I heard that… That would have been worth a shot.

        I’m sure the Dodgers would want him but they will not trade their top two which the Rockies would want. The Rockies need to trade him because the guy is not happy and that is clear…but that is a lot of money…he is great though.

      • Dave

        Yep- I figure Toronto could get him easily but it would take two top young players… probably biggio or Bichette plus Pearson (their top-ranked minor league pitcher and #7 prospect in MLB) and I wouldn’t go that high for a guy who could walk away in 2 years.

      • badfinger20

        Plus that defeats your purpose. You don’t want to give up what you have already…someone in the minors yes…but not talent that is major league ready. It would be an addition but not as much of an impact with Bichette gone.

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