Blue Jays: The pressure on the outfielders to perform

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 3: Curtis Granderson
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 3: Curtis Granderson /

The Blue Jays have a fair amount of depth in their outfield picture, and with that in mind their starters will need to perform to earn their playing time, especially Randal Grichuk.

I talked about this earlier this year and the message hasn’t really changed, especially in John Gibbons‘ lineup. Those that are performing will play, and we’ve already witnessed as much with the likes of Steve Pearce, Yangervis Solarte, and others. Gibby likes to go to the hot hand, and there’s nothing wrong with that philosophy, especially when guys like Pearce are tearing the cover off the ball.

With that in mind, that philosophy could have the biggest impact on the outfield picture. On one hand you might expect it would influence the middle infielders the most, but with the unpredictable health of Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis, and even Aledmys Diaz‘s recent back flare up, it may be a case of whomever is healthy will start at shortstop and second base.

In the outfield, so far we’ve had a healthy group of players to watch, and the production has been pretty solid. Kevin Pillar is off to another good April start, slashing .295/.326/.455, and already collecting 13 hits in his first 44 at bats. Curtis Granderson has looked like a savvy pickup, hitting .379/.471/.621 in the early going, and the aforementioned Pearce had hit home runs in three consecutive games entering last night’s contest with the Orioles.

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The one outfielder who hasn’t performed all that well so far is Randal Grichuk, who was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals this past offseason in exchange for Conner Greene and Dominic Leone. Grichuk has just three hits in his first 35 at bats, and has been relegated to the bench in favour of the hot-hitting Pearce the last few nights. When you’re ice cold and your teammate is red hot, it makes sense, but it’s hard to picture Pearce being a permanent fixture in right field.

Grichuk will definitely get his opportunities, and by this time next week this could all be a distant memory. As discussed, if he gets hot then Gibbons will be happy to put him into the lineup with regularity, as was the plan to start the season. However, if his struggles continue there are other suitable options waiting in Triple-A Buffalo, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Blue Jays could entertain the idea.

Because Grichuk is still young and in the early stages of his contract status, he’s making just 2.6 million this season. He has two more years of arbitration eligibility left as well, and his pay cheque will be greatly influenced by his performance on the field. The other aspect of that though, is that it makes it easier for a team to trade and/or designate a player for assignment. I’m not at all suggesting that Grichuk will be designated this year, but it could happen later in his career as he gets more expensive, and if he isn’t earning his contract.

I’d be very surprised if that’s the path his career took, but he’ll have to perform to be a part of the Blue Jays’ outfield picture, both this season and beyond. The Blue Jays have Teoscar Hernandez waiting for an opportunity in the minor leagues, and others like Anthony Alford are getting closer to being healthy, adding another layer of talent to the depth chart. I wrote about a similar threat to Pillar this season a few weeks ago, and despite his solid start I still feel it’s a valid threat to his place on the roster for the long term.

Grichuk does not have any minor league options remaining, meaning the Blue Jays won’t be able to simply demote him to give him a chance to work on his plate approach, as the Cardinals did last year. He’ll be given every opportunity to show why the Blue Jays were interested in him in the first place, and there are a lot of good reasons for that. As a plus defender with power in his bat, he was good enough for 3.2 and 2.7 bWAR in 2015 and 2016, and that was without a full time role, and hitting in a pitcher’s park.

If and when he finds his stroke with the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre, don’t be surprised if he puts these early season struggles behind him and thrives in his new environment. That said, he’ll need to do that sooner than later if he wants to stay in the lineup with regularity, and stave off the talented youngsters in Triple-A. There will be a lot of patience for the Texas native to come around, but it won’t last forever.

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