The Blue Jays are said to be looking for an upgrade at centre field. George Springer and Jackie Bradley Jr. are options, but are there other possibilities that the Jays might pursue?
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Different writers have different views of Randall Grichuk in centre field. Personally, I am a fan. Up to the end of 2019, his career DRS/1200 of +8.5 was 13th in baseball (and just ahead of JBJ’s career +7. Then Grichuk had a meltdown in 2020, with a crazy-bad -24 DRS/1200. Personally, I find it hard to believe that “The Grinch” could fall off a cliff like that in his age 29 season (I suspect that his SI injury in July never fully healed – and a bad sacroilliac can *really* affect mobility). But the Jays are looking for areas of improvement, and centre field is definitely on that list.
Most of the discussion in the fanbase has been around established centre fielders who are either free agents – like George Springer or Jackie Bradley Jr. – or obvious trade candidates like Tyler O’Neill. But there is another option.
The Blue Jays’ core is very young. Guerrero Jr., Bichette, Biggio, Jansen, Guerriel Jr., Pearson, Hernandez – all learning and growing together, with plenty of team control. What if the Jays could acquire a similar young centre fielder – one who is mlb-ready, but still growing?
What would a player like that look like? Well, they would either have only 1-2 years of mlb experience, or be currently in the minors but mlb-ready for 2021. They would be legitimate centre fielders defensively – not corner outfielders who are playing centre out of necessity. And they would be good, with plenty of upside.
So why would a team trade a player like that?
In a word, it would be because they are blocked. Having a player with centre-field level skills play corner outfield is like having a shortstop play third base. They can do it, but they lose a lot of value. Yes, there are exceptions where a marginal centre fielder becomes an uber corner outfielder (like Adam Eaton in 2016) but a team can often generate more value by trading their second centre fielder rather than converting him to a corner (if that conversion is even possible – a right fielder often requires a stronger arm than a centre fielder).
So play the game of “what if” with me.
Christian Pache / Drew Waters (Atlanta)
Pache and Waters are both natural centre fielders (Pache is projected to be a Gold Glove-level CF). But not only can only one of them play centre, but the Braves have a middlin’ good player there right now in Ronald Acuña Jr. RAJ was originally expected to play corner outfield, but he has put up an impressive +10 DRS/1200 in CF over his career. So the Braves have three legit centre field options (four, if you include Ender Inciarte) but only one CF gig to offer. Might they be willing to trade one of their prospects (both Pache and Waters are expected to debut in 2021) for the right package?
Brandon Marsh (Angels)
Marsh is a 60-grade runner with a 60-grade arm, and (per fangraphs) “is a better outfield defender that Adell and projects as a clean fit in center field”. He is the #38 prospect on the latest BA 100 list. He has a ton of raw power, but hits the ball on the ground too much (remind you of anyone?). But, with his strong defense, Marsh is projected to be an above-average everyday player – or better? So why would the Angels trade him? Two reasons. First, they desperately need pitching. And second, they kinds already have an adequate centre fielder.
Nick Senzel (Reds)
Nick was drafted #2 overall in 2016 as a third baseman, after he won MVP honours in the Cape Cod league in 2015. He started his minor league career well, but in 2018 he must have kicked a black cat while breaking a mirror under a ladder, because ever since then his injury luck as been terrible. A torn ligament in his right index finger ended his 2018, and his 2019 mlb season was limited to 104 games due to a sprained ankle and torn labrum. His 2020 season was limited to 23 games due to an undisclosed illness that sounds a lot like covid.
This kid is intriguing at many levels. First, his athleticism – he has 55 grade speed and arm right now, and is projected to be a 55 grade centre fielder. Which is impressive, in that he only started playing centre in spring training of 2019. Despite his inexperience, Senzel played to a -1 DRS/1200 in 2019 and +7 in 2020. And Statcast agreed with his ability – he had a OOA/400 of zero (i.e. mlb-average) in both 2019 and 2020. Senzel’s bat has not yet lived up to his high potential, but the upside is clearly there. If the Jays were to acquire him, it would be a gamble on a breakthrough. But he should be available – the Reds have been said to be shopping Nick for some time. And having a player who could back up third base would be more than mildly useful.
Jarred Kelenic (Seattle)
Kelenic was the #9 prospect on the BA 100 list, pre-2000 (Pache was #10). He is considered an average defender in centre, with his bat (60 raw power) his primary tool. The original long-term Seattle plan was Kelenic in centre, Julio Rodriguez in right and Kyle Lewis in left. But Lewis just won the rookie of the year playing centre with a +3 OAA/400, which could push Kelenic and his cromulent defense into a corner. And with Dylan Moore’s breakout in LF, Mitch Haniger expected to be fully recovered for 2021, and Julio Rodriguez with a 2022 ETA, a corner Kelenic is more a luxury than an untouchable.
The bottom line
Most of these players would not come cheap. Think a package around Martin for Pache or Kelenic, or around Groshans for Waters. And the Jays might well choose to wait until 2022 and see if Martin (with his projected 50-grade speed, 45-grade fielding and arm) might be the solution. But if the Jays could pry one of these young centre fielders away from their current teams, the upside might be tremendous.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.