Jose Bautista will be in right field on Opening Day 2013. Standing beside him in center field will be Colby Rasmus. The man standing in left field, on the other hand, remains a blur. Through the first five months of the season, the position has seen three different proclaimed starters. Eric Thames “won” the job out of spring training, but was demoted in the middle part of May and never saw Toronto again. After Thames went down, his former platoon partner Rajai Davis took over; much to the chagrin of Travis Snider fans everywhere. Davis held the spot for two full months, until the latter half of July, when Snider finally received his much deserved promotion. Lunchbox’ short reign made Thames’ look like an eternity, as after just 10 games he was shipped to Pittsburgh in exchange for late inning reliever Brad Lincoln. Since returning to the seat of glory, Davis has done nothing to prove he’s worthy of a roster spot next season, as Friday’s poor effort dropped him down to a .223/.290/.304 slash line in August. That equates to a .278 wOBA and a 71 wRC+, both of which are well below average. Did I mention that this production has come primarily out of the leadoff spot with Brett Lawrie on the disabled list? Yikes.
The Blue Jays need to look for an alternative if they hope to field a contender next season, as Davis clearly isn’t going to cut it. The team is likely to first look outside the organization, as left field usually isn’t the most difficult position to find a bat for. Josh Hamilton is most certainly out of the team’s price range, and Nick Swisher might fall into that category as well once the market (and the owners’ wallets) opens up. Angel Pagan is a reasonable possibility, but he may not want to leave a contending team, or shift from center field. The team has a number of other holes to fill, namely the starting rotation and second base, so it’s possible the Blue Jays will aim for a cheaper alternative to the names above. Among those options is the current right fielder, Moises Sierra.
Sierra isn’t a star prospect by any stretch of the imagination, but that’s not what the team needs from their left fielder at this junction. With Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, Travis d’Arnaud, and (hopefully) a resurgent Yunel Escobar, the 2013 edition of the Blue Jays should have plenty of offensive firepower, and that’s without including whoever will be playing designated hitter. Toronto needs someone to stabilize left field, to provide average to above average production both at the plate and in the field, and that is something that the incumbent Rajai Davis simply cannot do.
I ranked Sierra as the 30th best prospect in the system last winter, with a perfect world projection of an everyday corner outfielder who hits 6th or 7th in the lineup. That’s a very reasonable expectation, and one that he could achieve as soon as next season. Sierra’s offense is built around his power, which scouts have graded out as a plus tool. Statistically, that puts him in the range of 20-25 home runs per year. His bat is less advanced, and because of his approach is unlikely to ever be any better than average. Sierra is an aggressive hitter, but that leads more to unfavorable contact – i.e. pop ups and ground balls – and a low walk rate as opposed to a high strikeout rate. His fielding, as we’ve seen in Toronto, isn’t great. His speed gives him decent enough range, but his routes to the ball are often less than idea. The majority of his defensive value comes from his right arm, which as we saw on Friday night, is spectacular. The accuracy is inconsistent, but there’s no doubting his arm strength; it’s a legitimate 80 tool.
While there are certainly better options in free agency and through trade, it eventually comes down to value per dollar spent. Unless the Blue Jays plan to move Adeiny Hechavarria to second base permanently – which would be a bad idea and colossal waste of value – there is no in-house replacement in the middle infield. The same can be said for the rotation; the team doesn’t presently have the internal depth to build it to above average, they’re going to need to spend something – either money or prospects – to do so. The outfield is a different story, as with Sierra seemingly major league ready and Anthony Gose and Jake Marisnick not far behind, the position shouldn’t classify as a need.
By turning to Moises Sierra next season and declining the option on Rajai Davis, the team would be saving roughly two million in salary, which can immediately be used to help sure up one of the aforementioned positions of need. How he performs over the next five weeks will carry significant weight on that decision, as the Blue Jays will be facing some harsh competition in September. As the schedule is setup, Toronto will almost exclusively be facing above .500 teams, most of which are in the wildcard hunt and will be giving 100% each and every night. While the sample size will remain small, if Sierra has good numbers at the end of September with 150-200 at-bats under his belt, the choice could become a little clearer. Sierra alone doesn’t sound that exciting, but if sticking him in left field increases the chances of landing Josh Johnson, Matt Garza, or someone of the like, I’m all for it.