Blue Jays’ Granderson brought in for more than just professionalism

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins tells Starting Lineup that he's happy with the club's productive offseason, but says there's still work to be done, hoping to compliment his pitching.

TORONTO – Russell Martin recently described Curtis Granderson as ‘the ultimate professional,’ and it’s not hard to see why.

On an introductory conference call with Toronto media Tuesday, the newly-signed outfielder deferred to his new bosses, spoke from experience about leadership and expressed confidence in his Blue Jays teammates.

When asked where and how much he expected to play, Granderson made it clear that manager John Gibbons and GM Ross Atkins will make those decisions.

“If they ask for my opinion, I’ll make some recommendations,” he said. “But I’m excited to be wherever they happen to put me. If they give me an opportunity to pitch, watch out.”

“I’m sure they’ll let me know what that is and they’ll ask for some input from me—what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking,” he continued. “But it’s going to be up to them. They drive the ship. I get in line.”

When asked about leadership, he said his first step would be listening, rather than talking.

“Ask questions, understand and observe,” Granderson said. “Some teams need you to come in there and just lead by example. Some teams need you to go ahead and be more vocal, but no one’s going to have a playbook for you.

“You’ve got to go ahead and be there, get some innings in there, get some practice out there in spring training. Have some ups and have some downs and then you’re going to start to figure it out.”

When asked about the Blue Jays’ chances of competing in a division featuring the Yankees and Red Sox, he sounded optimistic.

“There’s some depth,” Granderson said. “There’s some guys on the 40-man (roster) that I’m sure are going to be beneficial to the organization, you have some experience with guys like J.A. Happ and Russell Martin. You have some guys who can move around and also be very explosive.”

Spoken like a professional, just as Martin predicted.

“He’s a class person,” said Martin, who played with Granderson on the 2012 Yankees. “Probably one of the greatest guys in the game.”

“Having the success he’s had and having the reputation that he has? That doesn’t come easily,” Atkins said.

“He’s an even-keeled, steady guy,” added Gibbons. “He might bring a little stability to that clubhouse, you never know.”

All of which is undeniable. It’s a major reason the Blue Jays signed Granderson to a one-year, $5 million deal last Monday. And yet the success of Granderson’s stint in Toronto will be likely determined by his production rather than his professionalism.

On that front, Granderson’s most recent season included some pronounced highs and lows. He started his 2017 year true to form, with his usual low-average, high-power combination at the plate and contributions at all three outfield positions. When the Dodgers acquired him from the Mets on Aug. 19, he had an .815 OPS with 19 home runs.

But from that point on, he struggled, slashing .161/.288/.366 during his final 132 plate appearances. The Dodgers rostered him during the NL playoffs, but left him off the World Series roster.

“If we all could go out there and bat 1.000, we’d obviously be the best player ever, and we also know we’re not going to go out there and strike out every time,” Granderson said. “It’s going to be somewhere in the middle. Sometimes you’re going to be closer to one side than the other and obviously things didn’t necessarily go the way that I wanted.”

Granderson, who turns 37 in March, profiles as a complementary player in Toronto. He’s likely to see much of his playing time in left field alongside centre fielder Kevin Pillar and Randal Grichuk, now the frontrunner to start in right.

Over the course of 14 big-league seasons, Granderson has always hit right-handers better than left-handers. In that respect, 2017 was no exception. He hit 21 of his 26 home runs against opposite-handed pitchers, while posting an .806 OPS. His numbers against lefties paled in comparison: five home runs with a .668 OPS. As such, Granderson will likely see much of his playing time against right-handed pitching, according to Atkins.

“How he’s playing will of course determine his playing time,” Gibbons noted.

All told, Granderson generated 1.4 wins above replacement last year as measured by Baseball-Reference, or 2.1 WAR on FanGraphs. Another season like that would more than justify his $5 million expense.

There’s risk in relying on a player entering his age-37 season, but then Granderson has an extended track record of producing. And if he’s a bust and the Blue Jays struggle, he’s making middle reliever money, not the kind of salary that sets a team back long-term.

As expected, though, Granderson’s expectations for the 2018 Blue Jays are high.

“Which team can stay the healthiest, which team has some depth, which team can win the games they’re supposed to win, which team can win the games in their division?” Granderson said. “I feel like Toronto has the ability to check all those boxes.”

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