Blue Jays’ Randal Grichuk making most of leadoff opportunity

Hockey Central's Nick Kypreos, Brian Burke, Doug MacLean and Elliotte Friedman join Daren Millard to analyze the Toronto Maple Leafs signing John Tavares to a seven-year $77 million deal in free agency.

You’d have to think that at some point these next two years, the leadoff position for the Toronto Blue Jays should cease being a matter settled by throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks.

Randal Grichuk, he of the .280 on-base percentage, has been taking the leadoff spot out for a spin against left-handed pitchers recently, while 37-year-old Curtis Granderson gets the call against righties in the hope that the more at-bats he gets the higher his modest trade value will climb. Grichuk is … well, he’s interested in how it’s gone. He’s not sure he’s a leadoff hitter, he said. “(But) it means you get that extra at-bat a game … and likely three at-bats at least against the same pitcher, the starter,” Grichuk said. “While I’m doing it, I might as well enjoy it.”

Grichuk at least figures in the team’s future plans as a cost-effective, solid defensive outfielder. He and Teoscar Hernandez will be counted upon to round out the edges when the Blue Jays treasure trove of prospects begins arriving.

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Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum. Who knows what other players might be on the major-league roster when Vlad and the Impalers start showing up? Who knows whether the trade of, say, a Marcus Stroman might not bring back an impact position player the likes of a Clint Frazier. Still, Blue Jays brass will tell you that of their list of highly-rated prospects, it is Bo Bichette or Logan Warmoth (despite a strikeout-walk imbalance this season at single-A) who profile perhaps as the most likely candidates for the role. Anthony Alford is viewed as a candidate by some, but there is a sense that on balance he is more likely to be a middle-of-the-order bat. Grichuk and Hernandez, too.

The Blue Jays have been in a bit of a wilderness at the top of the order since Ben Revere left after playing an understated role as the team’s leadoff hitter down the stretch in 2013. Since then, it’s been the likes of Kevin Pillar, Michael Saunders, Ezequiel Carrera and Devon Travis that have taken a turn. Jose Bautista returns to Toronto Tuesday and he was, remember, the team’s leadoff hitter for 53 consecutive games in 2017, his final season here, largely because his skills had diminished to the point where he’d become a dead man walking – literally, since drawing a base on balls was the only offensive skill he had left.

Travis seemed form-fitted for the job, but his body failed him. He might get another shot. In the meantime, Grichuk is trying to pull his game together, acknowledging a stint on the disabled list made it easy to make necessary changes to his set-up – changes he knew he needed to make early in the season at the big-league level, but admits now he was reluctant to incorporate in-game.

“I’d be down one day, up the next day,” he said of his stance. “Four at-bats can seem like life and death … you almost feel like you’re giving a game away.”

Grichuk might not be the answer to the long-term search for a leadoff hitter that goes all the way back to Revere’s Ride, but right now he sure seems like a guy ready to take advantage of that extra at-bat per game.

NOW TWEET THIS

In which we celebrate Raptors Freedom Day … mourn the weekend’s departure of Ronaldo and Messi, even though you know deep down the GOAT argument is settled … salute Drew Doughty for saving money … support the smart idea of moving the NBA Draft until after the free-agent signing period … and start a bit of a Roberto Osuna rumuor. Just a wee one …

• The road ahead is now clear and a little easier for Raptors president Masai Ujiri: with LeBron James out of the Eastern Conference, give this core one more shot. It also piles even more pressure on head coach Nick Nurse #NoMoreExcuses

• The GOAT debate is silly: Ronaldo’s a better all-round player than Messi. Still, what does it say that neither have scored in a World Cup knockout match? Ronaldo in 514 minutes on 25 shots over six games; Messi in 756 minutes on 23 shots over eight games #Chokers?

• OK, the Yankees are now officially just toying with us. Gleyber Torres hit cleanup on Saturday at the age of 21 years, 199 days, the youngest Bronx Bomber to do so since Mickey Mantle (19 years, 344 days) in 1953 and Lou Gehrig (21 years, 197 days.) #StopItAlready

• As Sportsnet’s John Shannon told us, Drew Doughty negotiated his extension with the Kings – saving commission due agent Don Meehan. Why not? The salary cap and disclosure of salaries meant everyone knew the parameters, and you’re talking to people you know #UnintendedConsequences

• The Blue Jays will do a pre-game thing to honour Jose Bautista on his return to the Rogers Centre on Tuesday. I know this: with Marcus Stroman starting there won’t be enough mustard in the country for those two hot dogs, especially after the Canada Day weekend #FlipThis

• Oddsmakers Paddy Power are trolling Russia by donating 10,000 pounds per goal scored by the World Cup hosts to LGBT+ inclusion. Wonder what they were thinking during Sunday’s shootout, though, which leaves them on the hook for 130,000 pounds #Charity

•Fascinating proposal to the NBA by the Rockets earlier this season: holding the draft after a free-agent signing period, making for more efficient use of the salary cap and more trades on draft night. It has some traction #Sensible

• When unforeseen circumstances force a trade, calling someone you know well and trusts you is a handy out, which is why when the Blue Jays make a call on Roberto Osuna, it’s good to know the Indians could lose both Andrew Miller and Cody Allen this winter as free agents #JustSayin’

THE ENDGAME

The salary cap has been a disaster for the Maple Leafs. It robbed the organization of the one strength it enjoyed during its years in the wilderness: the ability to spend opposing teams into the ground and toss out more money to cover up costly mistakes like the New York Yankees used to do before they re-discovered an organizational brain. Sports fans often look at salary caps as a panacea but trust me, fans of big-market teams get screwed by sports socialism.

That’s why I love the way Brendan Shanahan and Larry Tanenbaum and Kyle Dubas bossed the free-agent market this weekend by setting up John Tavares’s contract so that $70 million of the $77 million gets doled out in one-time payments; effectively giving him unprecedented protection against a work stoppage in return for a hometown discount.

It was fascinating hearing Hockey Central analysts Brian Burke, Doug MacLean, Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos discuss how Islanders boss Lou Lamoriello might resort to future offer sheet mayhem to get payback and how this type of contract was precisely warned against at a board of governors meeting. On a side note, Burke continues to nail his new gig with his candidness in telling you how a general manager thinks when things get brutal in the business, something not often done by former sports executives.

My guess is the Leafs’ new savvy front office can handle anything Lamoriello and Islanders ownership can throw at them. Tough to beat a team with the financial might of the Leafs, a CEO not afraid to throw organizational weight around, and a future so bright guys from other organizations are willing to take a discount to pay for it. Never mind the Yankees, folks: the real Leafs comparable could be the Golden State Warriors.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-Noon and Baseball Central from Noon-1 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan. He also co-hosts ‘The Lede’ podcast with Stephen Brunt.

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