LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – When Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Ross Atkins did his first daily briefing with the media at the Winter Meetings from his suite at Disney’s Dolphin hotel, he was asked where he feels his club has redundancies at the upper levels of the organization – a surplus from which to deal in order to improve the team in other areas.
Atkins’ answer, “relief pitching and the outfield,” was not what many expected to hear, especially because the outfield is a place where the Blue Jays would appear to require some major reinforcement.
The bullpen is a source of strength, with Roberto Osuna’s set-up crew of Ryan Tepera, Dominic Leone and Danny Barnes all having had breakthrough seasons in 2017 along with impressive, if brief, performances from rookies Matt Dermody (1.05 WHIP after his return from the minors in July), Tim Mayza (1.24 WHIP, 13K/9 in September) and Carlos Ramirez.
But the outfield? Right now the Blue Jays’ outfield has Kevin Pillar in centre and that’s it, as far as sure things go. So where’s the surplus?
The truth is that while there’s a definite need for some big-time, middle-of-the-order help to surround Pillar – especially if the Jays can somehow get themselves out from under Kendrys Morales and make Steve Pearce their primary designated hitter – the Blue Jays also happen to have quite a few outfielders who have either already played in the majors or are very close, and likely not enough room for all of them.
Ezequiel Carrera is the only one of the bunch who spent the majority of his time in the big leagues this past season, and as a speedy, light-hitting guy who you don’t really want to put in centre field unless you have to, he doesn’t hold a lot of value in trade. He could be a piece, just not the main piece in getting something significant in return.
Anthony Alford and Teoscar Hernandez are both much more intriguing, and both should spend some serious time in the major leagues this season. Alford, the Jays’ best outfield prospect, made quite the impression in his week in the bigs before breaking his hand (and he’s killing it right now in the Mexican League) and all Hernandez did was post an OPS over .900 in a September call-up that featured six home runs in a six-game span.
Behind those two is another group of young outfielders that includes Dwight Smith, Jr. and Ian Parmley, each of whom made his major-league debut this past season, Roemon Fields and Harold Ramirez, and the ever-promising Dalton Pompey, who had a lost year due to a concussion and subsequent knee injury.
Smith earned a call-up with a strong early-season showing in Buffalo and didn’t look out of place in the majors, hitting .370/.414/.444 over a dozen games. The 25 year-old hasn’t shown that kind of offensive ability throughout his pro career, though. He’s a career .269/.343/.401 hitter over six minor-league seasons.
Parmley is a pure speed-and-defence guy, an emergency call-up when the Blue Jays were in panic mode due to outfield injuries. He appeared in just four games and never reached base and, while not a strong hitter in the minors, has the tools to be a contributor in the bigs off the bench.
Fields, a speed demon, had his first taste of triple-A in 2017 and responded with the best season of his career, slashing a .291/.355/.352 for Buffalo that would have looked a lot better if not for a 3-for-35 slump in late August. He has made a slow and steady climb up the Blue Jays’ organizational ladder and the wheels and glove are major-league ready.
Ramirez repeated double-A in 2017 and took a step back, his OPS dropping by almost 100 points from .767 to .678, but he’s still only 23 years old.
That’s nine guys (10 if you count Pearce), all of whom should be playing in triple-A or higher at some point in 2018, which definitely amounts to a surplus, and yes, there are some redundancies.
Alford is likely the only one who could be used as the centrepiece in a deal that would bring back a significant return, and he’s the one the Blue Jays are least likely to move. Most of the rest of them could be interesting options in putting together a multi-player trade, if not serving as the final piece that gets a deal done.