TORONTO – A few thoughts on where the Toronto Blue Jays sit following the acquisition of Randal Grichuk of the St. Louis Cardinals for reliever Dominic Leone and prospect Conner Greene.
• As Ben Nicholson-Smith pointed out, it looks like the Blue Jays have their position-player group pretty much set, with Grichuk, Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz and Curtis Granderson the additions.
Essentially, they fill the spots of the departed Jose Bautista, Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney and provide manager John Gibbons the opportunity to mix and match based on matchup. He’ll also have better options on the bench in the event he wants to rest one of his regulars, particularly the returning-from-injury Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis.
To a certain degree, it will be on Gibbons to make things work and find enough playing time to keep everyone productive, and how he finds regular at-bats for Solarte will be especially interesting to watch.
• That being said, have GM Ross Atkins and company enough done to boost an offence that was last in the 15-team American League with 693 runs scored and 13th in both on-base percentage (.312) and slugging percentage (.412)?
Here are the career OBP/Slug numbers for their acquisitions: Grichuk .297/.488; Solarte .327/.419; Diaz .338/.461; and Granderson .339/.472.
That’s better than what was offered by Bautista .308/.366; Goins .286/.356; and Barney .275/.327. If there’s some bounce back from Tulowitzki, Travis and Russell Martin, along with a full season of Josh Donaldson, the offence should certainly be better, although it’s no lock to break into the top six.
• Pitching matters, but making gains at the plate is pivotal. The five playoff teams in the AL last year ranked among the six most productive offences in the AL, with Texas, fifth at 799 runs, the only exception.
• Grichuk is 26 and, as Arden Zwelling explained, the Blue Jays are betting that he still has some upside.
His youth is part of the attraction on the club’s end and along with Diaz, who is 27, and Solarte, who is 30, they’ve started getting a bit younger. Granderson, who turns 37 in March, is an exception and the way he finished out last year with the Dodgers is of some concern, but with Teoscar Hernandez, Anthony Alford, Dalton Pompey and Dwight Smith Jr., now slated to open the year at triple-A Buffalo, the Blue Jays have some depth to lean on.
• A question to be answered by the end of spring training, if not sooner, is whether the Blue Jays can carry five outfielders (Grichuk, Granderson, Kevin Pillar, Steve Pearce and Ezequiel Carrera) and Kendrys Morales. If all of them are on the roster, it’s hard to see how Diaz, who has options remaining, fits.
Moving Morales makes sense because it would free up the DH spot, but a rival executive this week said he couldn’t envision a possible landing spot.
• Barring injuries or further moves, the position-player end of the roster looks like this: Martin and Luke Maile at catcher; Justin Smoak, Travis, Tulowitzki, Donaldson, Solarte and Diaz for the infield; Granderson, Pillar, Grichuk, Pearce and Carrera; and Morales at DH. That’s 14 players. At least one too many.
• The Blue Jays are now at either $148 million or $148.9 million in guarantees to 20 players for next season, depending on how the arbitration cases for Marcus Stroman and Roberto Osuna turn out. Whether their payroll is $160 million or $165 million, that still leaves them a decent chunk of change to work with and Atkins indicated that pitching is the focus now.
• The need to backfill for Leone is obvious but how the Blue Jays pull it off isn’t. If they’re intent on giving Joe Biagini a chance to start, a swingman type of arm for the bullpen (old friends Jesse Chavez and Scott Feldman are on the market) becomes essential.
However, if another starter is added (even an experienced bounce-back type that can log innings such as Wade Miley or Chris Tillman), then Biagini can go back to the bullpen and be the type of multi-inning reliever Gibbons covets. Danny Barnes went more than inning 20 times in his 60 games last year but it can’t be him alone.
• Ryan Tepera and Barnes are positioned to be the top setup men for closer Osuna, with Aaron Loup behind them. Al Alburquerque, signed to a minor-league contract Thursday, suddenly has a much clearer path to a roster spot, while youngsters like Carlos Ramirez, Matt Dermody and Tim Mayza are in the mix, but have options and could be depth pieces at Buffalo. The challenge now is to find a Joe Smith-type who can help mop up some leverage frames.
Totally speculative here, but the Blue Jays have had past interest in Tyler Clippard, while another free agent, Seung-hwan Oh, fits the high-strikeout, low-walk profile the Blue Jays (and other teams) covet, although the drop in his groundball rate (40-28.7 per cent) and spike in flyball rate (40.5-49.5 per cent) from 2016-17 is notable. Both are coming off down seasons, but have the past track record to potentially rebound, the way Smith did last year.