Blue Jays must now shift focus to improving pitching

Tim and Sid react to the news that the Toronto Blue Jays have acquired Randal Grichuk from the St. Louis Cardinals for Dominic Leone and prospect Conner Greene.

TORONTO – The 2018 Toronto Blue Jays are gradually becoming easier to envision.

Their first acquisitions of the winter, Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte, will provide depth behind the vulnerable middle infield duo of Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis. Curtis Granderson, who’s all-but-officially signed to a one-year, $5 million deal, profiles as a platoon bat who will get most of his playing time against right-handed pitching.

The Blue Jays’ latest acquisition, Randal Grichuk, becomes the leading candidate to start in right field. “He’ll have the best chance of our group to take that position over,” GM Ross Atkins said. As a result of these moves, the Blue Jays are a backup catcher away from having a solid collection of big-league position players.

Their pitching staff appears more vulnerable, however, especially because Atkins had to part with reliever Dominic Leone and right-handed pitching prospect Conner Greene to obtain Grichuk from St. Louis. From here on, Atkins expects the club to prioritize pitching, with starters and relievers on the club’s radar.

“I think we could add in both places,” he said.

That much appears undeniable. The Blue Jays’ projected rotation now includes Aaron Sanchez, who was limited to just eight starts in 2017 because of ongoing blister and fingernail issues, and Joe Biagini, who posted a 5.73 ERA in 18 starts with a dropoff in peripheral stats.

The Blue Jays can’t be completely sure what to expect from either starter entering the 2018 season, and while their triple-A depth has improved compared to this time last year, the addition of an established big-league starter would undoubtedly improve the club’s chances.

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In the bullpen, the Blue Jays still have Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera and Danny Barnes even after trading Leone. Beyond that, they could backfill the big-league ‘pen with the likes of Carlos Ramirez, Matt Dermody and Tim Mayza if needed.

At the same time, Ramirez, Dermody and Mayza have options remaining, which allows them to start the season in the minors. To make sure they have as much relief depth as possible, the Blue Jays could instead decide to add an established big-league pitcher to their bullpen.

Not only does the free agent pitching market remain plentiful, the Blue Jays could also pursue trades. They added a total of $1.515 million in the Grichuk deal, but are still believed to have more than $10 million remaining to spend on 2018 payroll.

“We feel as though we still have resources to acquire additional talent,” Atkins said, without addressing specific numbers.

The Blue Jays have been encouraged by the interest rival clubs are showing in their prospects, according to Atkins. There’s also a chance they could trade from the big-league roster. Between Grichuk, Granderson, Kevin Pillar, Steve Pearce and Ezequiel Carrera, they have a potential surplus of outfielders, especially considering the presence of prospects Teoscar Hernandez and Anthony Alford at triple-A.

“We’ll have options and we’ll have some balance,” Atkins said. “In today’s game, asking someone to get 700 plate appearances is asking a lot. There’s very few players that are doing it day in and day out.”

If Toronto carries five outfielders, it would be limited to a seven-man bullpen. Many teams, the Blue Jays included, prefer to carry eight relievers, so Atkins hasn’t ruled out the possibility of moving Pearce ($6.25 million in 2018) or Carrera ($1.9 million). Both players could draw interest, and though neither one appears to have much surplus value at their current salaries, Pearce might have more appeal in trade talks.

As for Grichuk, the Blue Jays liked him for months because of his defensive skill, speed and power. Now entering his age-26 season, he’ll remain under team control through 2020. He’s a flawed player, with a .297 career on-base percentage and a career strikeout rate of 30 per cent, but has still generated 7.0 wins above replacement in three-plus seasons.

Alone, he doesn’t transform the Blue Jays’ outlook, but combined with Diaz, Solarte and Granderson, he should strengthen the offence of the club that scored the fewest runs of any American League team in 2017.

Next up, the pitching staff will require attention. With less than a month remaining until spring training officially begins, the rotation and bullpen still look vulnerable to the grind of a six-month season.


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