Jays From the Couch continues our comparison of Toronto Blue Jays position players to their AL East counterparts
As opening day approaches, we continue our mini-series examining pitching and defensive positions of the Blue Jays – and how they rank and compare with all their AL East division competitors. In this edition, we cover the CF position. I identified each team’s starting CF as per Roster Resource, and this is how I ranked them:
- Rays – Kevin Kiermaier
- Jays – Randal Grichuk
- Yankees – Brett Gardner
- Red Sox – Jackie Bradley Jr.
- Orioles – Austin Hays
To rank and differentiate this pool of candidates, I based my decisions on the combination of various factors:
- Career fWAR
- Age (whether they’re approaching their peak or closure to regression)
- Contractual situation – the length and cost of a players control influences their value
- Steamer fWAR Projections for 2020 – what is their anticipated production
- Offense – what is their track record
- Defense – what is their track record
#1 Rays – Kevin Kiermaier
|Contractual Situation||3 seasons control + 1 option year (2020-22 approx. $33 million; 2023 $13 million option)|
|2020 Steamer fWAR Projection||1.9|
Drafted, developed, and eventually extended by the Tampa Bay Rays, Kevin Kiermaier has become one of the more recognizable faces on an ever changing roster. Battling some injury the last few years, Kevin has struggled to replicate his peak production from 2015 & 2016 (4.3 & 4.0 fWAR). Although not known for his bat, Kiermaier’s speed and athleticism offers tantalizing components in other aspects of his game.
Kevin hasn’t been known for his offense, and his last two offensive campaigns have not resulted well, ranking at a 79 & 78 wRC+. His career slash line is equally anemic, at .249/.306/.416 and .723 OPS. Since his debut in 2014, Kevin’s 97 wRC+ ranks 29th of the 60 qualified CF’ers.
Now we get to his defensive abilities, and this is where he separates himself. Even with some injury shortened campaigns, his lowest season DRS is 13 (wow!). Since 2014, he ranks 1st among all outfielders (54 qualified) with a 130 DRS. (For context, the next closest are Mookie Betts at 113 DRS, and Lorenzo Cain 96 DRS).
With his defensive capabilities, if Kevin can remain healthy and produce at someone close to league average offensively (as he has at points historically), the Rays would be absolutely content.
#2 Toronto Blue Jays – Randal Grichuk
|Contractual Situation||4 seasons control (~$40 million over 2020-23)|
|2020 Steamer fWAR Projection||1.8|
Originally drafted by the Angels in 2009 (24th overall, one pick prior to Mike Trout – wow!), Randal Grichuk was traded to the St Louis Cardinals and developed in their system. Prior to the 2018 season, he made his way to the Blue Jays in exchange for Dominic Leone and Conner Greene. Surprising to most, the Jays signed their high slugging (but also high strikeout) outfielder to a 5 year/ $52 million extension prior to 2019.
In his debut with the Jays in 2018, Grichuk offensively had a very respectable year with a 115 wRC+. His slash line of .245/.301/.502 wasn’t ideal, but decent enough that if he could find a way to boost his on-base % – he’d be an even more valuable tool. In 2019, however, he saw his offensive production taper off – with a 90 wRC+. Of note, his 2019 5.6% BB% and 26% K % were virtually identical to his career average (5.8% & 28.3% respectively). However, his 2019 BABIP of .266 was drastically off his career average (.295), which gives hope that 2019 was just an unlucky season – and that potentially 2020 he could return to more significant production.
Defensively, Grichuk has spent the majority of his time as a Blue Jay in RF. However, more recently the team has indicated he will be their CF in 2020. In his small sample sizes in CF with the Blue Jays, Randal has mixed results with a -3 DRS in 2018 and a 2 DRS in 2019. Looking back to his time with the Cardinals, the last time he spent significant time in CF was in 2015 and 2016 – where he accumulated 5 DRS and 7 DRS seasons respectively. There is experience for Randal to lean back on, and potential for defensive success in his new position.
There is hope Randal’s speed and athleticism will transition successfully to regular CF duties, and that his offensive output could gain some consistency. With him still being young at 28 and with 4 cheap seasons of team control (personal bias acknowledged) I’m absolutely content with the Jays rolling the dice on him in CF this season – and rank him here on my list.
#3 New York Yankees – Brett Gardner
|Contractual Situation||1 season control ($12.5 million)|
|2020 Steamer fWAR Projection||1.8|
Returning to the Yankees on a one year contract, Brett Gardner will provide a veteran presence to his squad in the 2020 season. However, even at the age of 37, he could be more than a place holder and still could be a contributor. In addition to a respectable career fWAR, he’s been the definition of consistency with a minimum of 2.5 fWAR in each of the past 7 seasons. Since 2013 he ranks 12th with 21.9 fWAR (of 175 qualified outfielders), and while more recently in 2019 he ranked 17th with a 3.6 fWAR (of 53 qualified outfielders).
Gardner, already with 12 seasons experience, has a respectable career slash line of .260/.342/.401 with a .743 OPS. Although Brett had a very impressive offensive year in 2019 with a 115 wRC+, his last 4 seasons have flopped back and forth around the league average mark (wRC+ of 96/ 110/ 91/ 115 from 2016-2019). Regardless of where exactly his offensive production lands in 2020, based on his recent history – I don’t think his offense will hurt the Yankees. I’m sure the Yankees would take anything close to a 100 wRC+ (which still seems well within his abilities), and anything higher would be gravy.
Historically, Gardner has been respectable from a fielding metrics perspective in CF. In 820 innings in CF last season, he accumulated a -2 DRS (approaching below average). This isn’t great, but it’s close enough to average that it shouldn’t hurt the team. Prior to 2019, his last substantial season exclusively in CF was 2013 (with 1100+ innings), so it’s quite likely he’ll see a mixture of outfield action. If that’s the case, there is encouragement to be taken from his collective outfield metrics in the past 3 seasons, varying from above average to gold glove calibre (20 DRS in 2017; 10 DRS in 2018; 5 DRS in 2019).
Will Gardner carry the Yankees in 2020? Not even remotely. However, I think he’s a solid piece on an already fantastic team, who will be very solid on both sides of the ball and provide significant production. His age approaching 40, a single year of team control, and expected production leaves Gardner here on my ranking list.
#4 Boston Red Sox – Jackie Bradley Jr.
|Contractual Situation||1 season control ($11 million)|
|2020 Steamer fWAR Projection||1.8|
Jackie Bradley Jr. found his name involved with many hot stove rumours this winter – with whispers of the Boston Red Sox attempting to shed salary. However, as the season approaches, he remains in Boston with one season of team control remaining.
Since his incredible 2016 season (.267/.349/.486 and .835 OPS), Jackie really hasn’t been able to repeat his success. Although he’s produced at a level below league average, there’s some value in an ability to be consistent (89/90/90 wRC+ from 2017-2019).
Defensively, there are two ways to observe his metrics. Positively, since receiving more consistent playing time in 2014, Jackie ranks 10th with 36 DRS (among 29 Center Fielders with a min 3000 innings). However, looking more closely at his recent ratings, 2018 and 2019 weren’t great at -2 DRS and -1 DRS. With 2014-2017 resulting in positive DRS ratings, one has to wonder if the previous two seasons are an anomaly or signs of a career decline.
Jackie has the potential to be decent on both sides of the ball, and has shown as much in the not so distant past. However, I place Jackie Bradley Jr. here on my list with his recent seasons of poor production, only 1 season of team control, and an age approaching 30.
#5 Baltimore Orioles– Austin Hays
|Contractual Situation||6 seasons control (2020-22 Pre-Arbitration; Arbitration Eligible 2022-24)|
|2020 Steamer fWAR Projection||1.4|
Yet again, the Orioles wind up in 5th in my ranked list. It’s hard to argue against it, with Hays really just having a brief cup of coffee (41 games collectively) in the Major Leagues.
In 2019 (with in incredibly small sample size of 21 games) Hays had a .309/.373/.574 slash line with a .947 OPS. However, in an equally small sample size in his only other season (2017), he had an atrocious OPS of. 555.
In his 2 seasons (again, brief) of MLB exposure, he’s accrued a -3 DRS across all outfield positions (CF sample size was even smaller).
Not much to say about this one, although he’s still young and comes with 6 seasons of team control, his limited big league exposure and limited projection as a minor league prospect lands him 5th on my list.
With the Blue Jays CF situation, although Grichuk is slated for the position right now – there’s always the chance Anthony Alford or Derek Fisher play their way into the picture. But as things stand currently, although Grichuk doesn’t top this list, if he can have league average defense and a little more consistency in offensive production – I’d be content with him in the position. Historically he has logged a couple above-average defensive seasons in CF (with the Cardinals), more recently he’s been passable in RF – so there’s hope his athleticism will allow for a successful transition.
Although he’s getting to the point where his career sample size might be indicating what his true capabilities are, he’s still young enough to dream on some minor tweaks and improvements on both sides of the ball (please please just get on base a smidge more!). Although it came with mixed fan reviews, he is controlled rather affordably for 4 more seasons, which although he isn’t a stud, he allows for team financial flexibility while he is capable of being a productive part of an eventual contender.
In the AL East, the CF position is represented by both long term controlled and single year players– all with varying abilities. It will be interesting to see how this list changes, both during the 2020 season, and a year from now.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Pete is an avid baseball fan – primarily focusing on the Toronto Blue Jays. Once a timid fan in his adolescence, a 54 home run season won his heart over. He could be heard screaming triumphantly one October evening after an infamous bat flip. Approximately 12 months later, he reacted similarly to the Donaldson Dash. He eagerly awaits the next chapter of October jubilation for his team.