TORONTO – The signing of Freddy Galvis by the Toronto Blue Jays is as much about the ongoing uncertainty over where Lourdes Gurriel Jr., plays in the field as it is about the newly arrived veteran Venezuelan shortstop.
Without a doubt a gifted defender like the 29-year-old will be more than welcomed by a pitching staff that played behind a collection of fielders that ranked 29th of the 30 big-league teams in both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating last year.
The Blue Jays were also dead last in Defensive Runs Above Average, which adds in a positional adjustment to the DRS and UZR ratings. (All table data courtesy of FanGraphs).
|Metric||MLB Leader||Blue Jays|
Not good, and once you break things down by position, things were especially troubling for the Blue Jays at shortstop, the most important spot in the field.
|Metric||MLB Leader||Blue Jays|
Now, advanced defensive metrics – at least the publicly available ones – don’t paint a complete picture and shouldn’t be read as gospel. They are, however, often pretty reasonable indicators of performance and you can be sure the Blue Jays, with their increasingly robust analytics department, have far better stuff than that to break down the issues with Gurriel’s glove.
And if you want to give your pitchers a real chance to succeed, particularly groundballers like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, the potential difference in performance at shortstop between Gurriel and Galvis is an important ingredient in the mix.
|Metric||Gurriel (351.1 inn.)||Galvis (1,401 inn.)|
So where then does that leave Gurriel?
Quite clearly, the Blue Jays felt too exposed going into the new season with Gurriel and Richard Urena up the middle, having traded Aledmys Diaz to Houston for pitching prospect Trent Thornton and releasing Troy Tulowitzki, who ended up with the New York Yankees.
At 25, Gurriel could still make gains defensively – he definitely looked better toward the end of 2018 than he did at the beginning – but he’s not going to be as gifted up the middle as Galvis.
Offensively, they are the inverse of each other. Gurriel hit .281/.309/.446 in 263 plate appearances as a rookie and seemingly offers far more offensive upside than Galvis, who has batted .246/.290/.374 in 3,096 career plate appearances.
One train of thought is to run with the better offensive player, let him endure growing pains in the field and hope the reps allow him to improve with the glove. If the errors pile up, well it’s a rebuilding season anyway, so no biggie.
The problem with such an approach is how corrosive unmade outs are to a pitching staff over the course of 162 games, and the cumulative impact of both the extra pitches that follow and the additional runs surrendered.
Given that the Blue Jays expect to have lots of young pitchers potentially part of the future running through the staff all year long, that’s not optimal for their development. And if the Blue Jays can’t groom some pitching over the next couple of seasons, any hopes of a short turnaround are going to disappear quick.
That’s why general manager Ross Atkins and the front office seem to have opted for defence up the middle since Galvis – a proven, outstanding defender known as a positive clubhouse presence – likely wouldn’t have signed without some assurances about his playing time.
Shortstop, then, appears to be largely out of play, at least on an everyday basis, for Gurriel, who barring injury has no obvious path to a regular infield role, particularly once Vladimir Guerrero Jr., arrives.
He played some second base last year, too, but the Blue Jays also have Devon Travis there and that’s where Brandon Drury is expected to end up once Guerrero’s service time has been reduced enough to push back his free agency a year. Urena is still around, too, although he’s just been dropped down another notch on the depth chart.
When he was signed, some in the industry felt Gurriel would ultimately end up in the outfield and perhaps that’s a possibility. But the Blue Jays have lots of depth there, as well, with Kevin Pillar, Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, Billy McKinney and prospect Anthony Alford as a starting point.
Intriguingly Dalton Pompey – who doubled in a run to help Canada beat Panama 5-1 Tuesday in its opener at a Pan American Games qualifying tournament – remains on the 40-man roster, with reliever Danny Barnes getting designated for assignment to clear space for Galvis.
A Mississauga, Ont., native, Pompey is out of options and the Blue Jays continue to insist that he still has some industry value – he has all the physical tools to be a dynamic player – so it makes you wonder if they’d consider breaking camp with him if he shows well. The team has invested lots of effort in Pompey over the past three years and is wary of seeing him blossom somewhere else.
Either way, the Blue Jays’ outfield is just as overflowing with puzzle pieces as the infield, all of which may or may not eventually help form a completed set.
Amid the sorting to come, the most difficult piece to place remains Gurriel, the only player still on the roster with guaranteed money in 2020 (his contract runs through 2024), who may end up relegated to bouncing from position to position to get his at-bats.