What does Granderson signing mean for crowded Blue Jays outfield?

Blue Jays prospect Anthony Alford tells Jeff Blair he doesn’t exactly know where he stands with the organization, but is just looking forward to competing for a spot, and working hard wherever he goes.

Rather than clarifying matters, this week’s signing of Curtis Granderson only served to raise more questions on how the Toronto Blue Jays intend to manage their roster, and what happens next.

With Granderson’s arrival, the Blue Jays outfield is crowded, better than last season, but perhaps not quite a finished product. When the veteran’s signing becomes official, he’ll almost certainly join Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera and Steve Pearce in an outfield rotation on the active roster.

Add Teoscar Hernandez and Anthony Alford to this mix as the next call-ups, with Dalton Pompey and Dwight Smith Jr. as further depth, and it shows the degree to which the floor has been raised and depth addressed.

But even for those who were supportive of the Granderson signing, it’s hard not to miss the signal that they are likely not in the mix for Lorenzo Cain. With starting pitching still to be addressed, it seems unlikely that they will use almost all their off-season money on outfielders, unless they are able to move someone off the roster in either a trade for players or for relief.

This raises the timely question: Do the Blue Jays intend to add another outfielder to this group? And if so, would they carry a fifth outfielder as a matter of course this season? And wouldn’t this necessarily demand that they carry seven relief pitchers as opposed to eight?

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The recent trend would seem to indicate that the team is more comfortable with eight arms in the bullpen. Last season, that may have been driven as much by the unreliable health and results of the entire pitching staff, and may not have been by design. At the same time, the 2016 Blue Jays often used an eight-player relief corps when the starting rotation was effective, healthy and reliable.

Of course, such designs are hardly set in stone in January and carried through an entire season. Even the best-laid plans don’t survive their first contact with the injury bug or sudden regressions in individual performance, so it’s entirely likely that we will see periods where there are eight relievers, and other periods where another position player is on the roster.

If the Jays are likely to at times carry a fifth outfielder, it will become a daily slide puzzle to shift players in and out of the lineup.

The most likely scenario, given the current construction of the roster, would see Hernandez elevated to the big-league roster, and likely in a starting role. He could join Kevin Pillar as an everyday player… and that’s where the fun begins.

With Carrera signing a $1.9-million deal to avoid arbitration, he will be a fixture on the roster next season. It’s entirely plausible to imagine him as the fifth outfielder in this scenario, used as much as a defensive replacement or pinch runner. Then again, his 107 wRC+ ranked him as the best offensive outfielder on the roster last season (minimum 300 plate appearances), as unlikely as that seemed at the time or seems in retrospect.

Granderson will likely see the bulk of the at-bats against right-handed pitching, and depending on his performance, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he could get some spot starts against lefties. His 76 wRC+ against lefties last season actually outpaced Jose Bautista’s splits (68) in the same matchup.

Pearce would seem to be natural platoon partner to Granderson, though serving as the right-handed side of a platoon would significantly limit his playing time, almost to the point of making him redundant. He would also need a defensive platoon-mate, as one imagines the team will want to limit his defensive opportunities in late, and close, situations.

The number of plate appearances Pearce receives could be as dependent on the health and play of Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales as anything that happens in the outfield. In fact, the relative immobility – both figurative and literal – of Morales is a significant aspect of what creates the crunch in the outfield. If the DH position on the roster were more flexible, and could be used to cycle the team’s many veterans through for needed days off their feet, then the addition of a fifth outfielder would not even be an issue.

One suspects that there is a contingent of the fan base which would not be satisfied to enter the season with the outfield as it stands. Certainly, it would be preferable to add an outfielder to this mix who would stand above the rest of the group. At present, that would leave the Jays perhaps looking at Carlos Gomez or Carlos Gonzalez as a free agent, or perhaps something more significant by way of trade. Or maybe you hope that Pillar can be closer to a league-average hitter and continue to give you exceptional defence.

Regardless of what additions are made in the coming weeks, John Gibbons will have his hands full when it comes to drawing up the lineup card each day. But having an abundance of options isn’t the worst scenario for the Jays skipper.

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