The Toronto Blue Jays are in a position to make some big trades this summer, but they should NOT include Gurriel in any of them
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The Blue Jays are in the hunt for a spot in the 2021 playoffs. Jays management has stated that they would make moves in season to improve the team.
They did indeed do so when the traded for relief pitcher Adam Cimber and outfielder Corey Dickerson from the Miami Marlins in exchange for infielder Joe Panik and minor league pitching prospect Andrew McInvale.
More trades are likely to give the team the best chance to compete. Management might want to add a frontline starting pitcher and to do so will likely cost more than the equivalent of Panik and McInvale.
However, to do so, they shouldn’t trade away players who are part of their young talented core that they have built. For me, that core very much includes Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
In each of Gurriel’s first three seasons in MLB, his wRC+ has improved, 103 as a rookie in 2018, 124 in 2019 and 135 in 2020. His .882 OPS in 2020 was 13th best among qualifying hitters in the league.
His overall offensive numbers so far in 2021 haven’t been as great (.700 OPS, 86 wRC+). He was one of several Jays hitters who got off to a slow start to the 2021 campaign with the bat; however he has been much better lately. Since May 15, his wRC+ is 133.
Gurriel finished in the top 3 in Gold Glove voting for American League left fielders in 2020 although admittedly his defence has been a work in progress.
On one hand, Gurriel is second in the AL with 8 outfield assists (which might have been what caught last year’s gold glove voters attention). Unfortunately he has a habit of taking bad routes to balls, and has misplayed a number of catchable balls as a result. His -6 outs above average in 2021, in spite of the outfield assists, is definitely suboptimal.
One thing to keep in mind is that Gurriel has only 1512.2 innings of experience as an MLB outfielder, or 168 games, just over a full 162 game season’s worth of experience. It is possible that he could improve his routes to balls and therefore his overall defence. Although unscientific, my eyeball test tells me that it has been a while since he has misplayed a ball in LF.
Then there is his contract status. The Jays signed Gurriel to a 7 year, $22 million contract as a free agent prior to the 2017 season. It was a gamble for the Jays to commit that much money to a player who had never played professional baseball outside of his native Cuba. They had no way of knowing for certain how well his talent would fare in Major League Baseball. As he has proven to be a good player in the majors, his contract has become a bargain.
The Jays owe him the relatively small (in MLB terms) amount of $13,400,000 from 2021-2023. He is also under team control, and arbitration eligible, in 2024. Keeping Gurriel can help save the Jays money that they can pay other quality players and still remain under the luxury tax threshold.
Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have excelled at their goal of rebuilding the organization’s farm system. They now boast one of the better minor league systems in the game. They have four catchers on the 40 man roster (five if you include Alejandro Kirk who is currently on the 60 day IL). Several minor league infielders are having good seasons and could be of interest to MLB GMs (Kevin Smith, Samad Taylor, Otto Lopez, Orelvis Martinez to name a few). And even if they prefer to hang on to their top three pitching prospects (Nate Pearson, Alek Manoah and Simeon Woods Richardson), they have other pitching prospects who could interest other GMs.
The Jays can, and should, put together a quality package capable of bringing back immediate help without subtracting from their major league team. Gurriel Jr needs to stay put.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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