How does Brandon Drury fit in to the Blue Jays long term plans?
On July 26, 2018 after weeks of speculation, the Blue Jays traded pitcher J.A Happ to the Yankees in exchange for Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney. Rather than prospects, word was that the Jays insisted on major league or major league ready players back from the Yankees for Happ.
Drury is an interesting player for a number of reasons. One reason is that he is currently the only position player on the Jays’ 40 man roster with three years of remaining team control. (Pitchers Joe Biagini and Ryan Tepera also have three years team control). Here is why that is significant:
Back in September, Blue Jays General Manager Ross Atkins said that he believes they will be competitive again in 3 years. Many people agree that in 2019-2020 the focus will be on rebuilding. Teams exceed expectations all the time, nobody knows how well the Jays will do until those seasons happen, but the most likely outcome is that the Jays will not be contenders for the next two seasons. By 2021, hopefully Vlad Guerrero Jr and the rest of the young talented players will have developed in to a talented core, capable of leading a contending Jays team in to the future. If all goes well, the next competitive window begins around 2021.
A number of players have 1-2 years of team control remaining: Devon Travis, Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales, Russell Martin, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Ken Giles, Kevin Pillar, Randal Grichuk and recently signed Matt Shoemaker. The expectation is that Jays’ management will try to trade a number of these and get as much back in return as possible rather than losing all of them as free agents. There is always the possibility of contract extensions for some (Stroman and Grichuk are my preferences but that’s a whole other article) assuming that both sides can come to terms. It’s pretty safe to say that a majority of those players will not be around when the next competitive window begins.
The other players on the 40 man roster have 4+ years of team control remaining, and that doesn’t even include prospects such as Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Nate Pearson, none of whom are on the roster yet but all of whom have a good chance to factor significantly in to the team’s future. These young, controllable players are what the Jays want right now and the plan is to spend the next 1-2 years watching all of them develop their potential and determine who the good MLB players are to form the next competitive team in the future.
So how does Drury fit in to all of this?
Jays’ management needs to evaluate whether Drury is a player who can help them contend in the future. Assuming he is healthy he will likely be the starting 3B on opening day, until Guerrero Jr has spent enough time in AAA for the Jays to get a seventh year of team control and he is called up. While Guerrero is expected to excel as a hitter, there are questions about his defence at 3B. Will he be a good defensive 3B? Is his long term future at 3B? Depending on how he does there, they may decide it is in the team’s best interest to move him across the diamond to 1B. Drury can slide back in at 3B if needed. He also has defensive versatility, he can play 2B once Guerrero comes up, giving the team options if Devon Travis doesn’t improve on last year’s results. In fact, 2B is probably Drury’s best defensive position. In parts of 4 seasons at 2B, he has 4 defensive runs saved, whereas as a 3B he has -5 DRS.
Offensively, Drury has potential. In 2016 with the Diamondbacks, he hit 31 doubles with an OPS of .786, and in 2017, 37 doubles and a .764 OPS. In a previous article about Drury, Srikant Kabse discussed Drury’s attempt to improve his launch angle in order to cut down on his ground ball percentage and improve on HR totals of 16 in 2016 and 13 in 2017. His launch angle percentage of 13.4 and ground ball percentage of 42.1 in 2018 are both significant improvements over previous years. It’s very unfortunate that injuries limited him to only 26 MLB games between the Yankees and Blue Jays in 2018.
If Drury is healthy in 2019 it will be very interesting to see what kind of results his new approach yield over a full season. As it stands now, the 2019 Jays probably have Travis at 2B, Gurriel at SS and Drury at 3B. At some point over the next two seasons, some or all of those could be replaced by Guerrero, Bichette and Biggio. If Drury doesn’t perform well, the decision becomes an easy one, sooner or later he will lose his roster spot to someone else. But if he can return to, and even improve upon, his numbers in 2016 and 2017, he could be a useful player when the Jays (hopefully) return to contending.
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