As we move into the early days of 2018, the Toronto Blue Jays would be well served to address their outfield situation
The Toronto Blue Jays need to do something about their outfield. As much as they need to establish some sort of quality depth in their infield, the outfield is in need of an upgrade. It is not as simple as the subtraction of Jose Bautista being an addition. No, there is more going on here than one might think. Simply getting younger in the outfield is not a guarantee of improvement, especially when this team has designs on competing in 2018. They are in need of a real solution; a solution that will provide an upgrade over what is currently projected to be patrolling the expanses of Rogers Centre this coming season.
On the offensive side of things, Toronto’s outfield was a disappointment. And, the immediate reaction would be to put the blame squarely on Bautista’s .674 OPS and 80 wRC+. That would be fair. His offensive drop off was as hurtful as it was surprising. No one saw this kind of decline coming. Over 680 plate appearances that yielded 23 home runs, 65 RBI and a strike out in nearly a quarter of the time is certainly not the anchor this club was hoping for. But, as disappointing as his season was, Bautista wasn’t exactly helped out by the other outfielders.
The combination of Steve Pearce and Ezequiel Carrera offered up a wRC+ of 103, an OPS of .761 with a combined home run total of 21. A competitive outfield should have a corner outfielder that contributes more than what Pearce and Carrera did. The home run total is nice, but a total of 0.7 fWAR is not going to cut it. That is especially true when the right fielder is putting up -0.5. In a limited sample, Teoscar Hernandez put up 0.7 fWAR during his time with Houston and Toronto. His wRC+ of 132 might look good, but can it be sustained over a full season? That is a very serious question facing this club.
The other element of this equation is Kevin Pillar. Right now, he seems the only returning player guaranteed anything resembling everyday playing time in Toronto’s outfield. The Blue Jays will be looking for Pillar to lead the way with his 2017 wRC+ of 85, his OPS of .704, his 16 HR, 15 SB, 1.9 fWAR. In total, Pillar seems to fit right in with the other members of this outfield. But, again, competing with this kind of offense is going to be quite the challenge, even if Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis are healthy, something that would help absorb the offensive hit, but is highly unlikely.
Consider the speed element this outfield group brings. Earlier, I took a look at the overall team speed the Blue Jays bring to the table. It isn’t good. Focusing on the outfield, where you typically see speed, the Blue Jays are looking forward to Pillar’s Spd rating of 4.4, Zeke’s 5.1, Hernandez’ 2.7 (with more playing time, you have to think this would climb closer to his minor league levels, which hit 6+). The combined 25 stolen bases leaves much to be desired as well.
Now, one could argue that Anthony Alford is someone who could offer up an improvement on the overall speed, and that would be a safe argument. However, it is difficult to see the Blue Jays feeling comfortable enough in Alford to give him an every day job. Now, he could impress in Spring Training and earn a spot, but coming into January counting on this happening is a poor strategy.
If we look at the defensive side of things, Toronto looks even more desperate. If you were to walk down any street and ask anyone about the Blue Jays defense, they would cite the many brilliant catches from Kevin Pillar. And, why not? He’s wowed us for a few years now. He would be the guy people point to as the best outfield defender. And, with Zeke’s -14 DRS, Pearce’s -6 DRS it makes total sense. Hernandez’ -1 DRS in 204 innings last year is not going to make you feel better about him being added to this group. For his part, Pillar, whose defense is what positively contributes to his 1.9 fWAR put up 15 DRS. However, it is worth noting that when you look at Statcast, Pillar ranks 146th in baseball in Outs Above Average with a value of -2 and he adds a Catch Percentage of -1, so it isn’t exactly all sunshine and roses.
There is a belief in baseball that preventing runs can be a substitute for scoring runs. Well, in the case of the Toronto Blue Jays, their outfield needs to be better at doing both. It is for that reason that they are in need of some kind of upgrade. With people much more intelligent than me running the show, it is rather safe to assume that the front office is aware of their need for an upgrade. While it may not seem like additions are forthcoming, the decision makers are more than aware of the current outfield situation. So, we have to assume that Pillar, Zeke and Pearce, with a sprinkle of Hernandez is not what the outfield will look like in 2018.
Lorenzo Cain seems the most attractive option for this outfield mess. He’s ranked 5th in Outs Above Average at 15! He adds a Catch Percentge of 4. He has averaged 15.8 DRS over the last 5 seasons (granted, this value has declined in recent years). His 4.1 fWAR is made up of an .803 OPS, 115 wRC+, 15 HR, 6.5 Spd and 3.9 wSB. When mentioning Cain, the first thought is that he’s turning 32 in April and is likely to see some decline. But, as our Jeff Q wrote, even in decline, Cain would be a solid signing. But, his asking price might be a bit much for this front office, so they could look for other options.
Jarrod Dyson is a defense first option for the Blue Jays. His 15 DRS is very appealing, but his offense leaves something to be desired. His career .677 OPS would not be a great addition. Though, he brings a Spd rating of 7.5 with a wSB of 2.4. He could be a lefty part of an outfield mix; one that would cost quite a bit less than Cain. Though, if you were worried about Cain declining at 31, Dyson at 33 should be more concerning as he brings less with the bat.
Heck, even Josh Harrison would be an interesting trade target to fix the Blue Jays outfield situation. He would bring average defense (-2 DRS in 708.2 career outfield innings) and a bat that this lineup could use. Sure, he’s a righty, but his .771 OPS, 104 wRC+, 16 HR, 12 SB, 4.9 Spd and 0.4 wSB marks would be quite welcome in this lineup. We could get into what it would cost to land him in a trade, but that really isn’t the point.
Instead, the point is this team is in need of an upgrade in the outfield. The current situation is a tad scary in the context of competing in 2018. It is for that reason that this front office has to be working the phones and putting plans in motion to find their upgrade. There will be those that suggest GM, Ross Atkins, and his friends are sitting on their hands and whatnot. That’s a narrative I don’t have a lot of time for. Instead, they will be looking for upgrades for their team. As of right now, the outfield looks scary, but there are upgrades out there to be had. It is for that reason that the fear will only be short lived.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.