Next season Derek Fisher won’t have any minor league options remaining, which means he’ll need to earn his spot on the big league roster throughout the 2020 campaign. That might be easier said than done.
At 53-80, the Blue Jays have just 29 games remaining in their 2019 season. While it’s long been established that they won’t be pursuing a playoff spot this year, there is still quite a bit to accomplish before the campaign is over, both for the players and for the front office.
In the case of the young and relatively inexperienced roster, getting the chance to add to their MLB resumes and get comfortable at the highest level is very important, especially when thinking about the 2020 season and beyond. For others, there are players who are basically starting their audition for a roster spot next season already, and some guys like Jacob Waguespack are taking advantage of the opportunity.
When it comes to the front office, at this point it’s all about evaluation for Ross Atkins and his coaching staff. That will happen throughout their minor league system as well, but there are significant decisions that could involve some of their big leaguers, including one of their most recent acquisitions, Derek Fisher.
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The 26-year-old outfielder was acquired from the Houston Astros on July 31st in exchange for Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini, and Cal Stevenson, which was seen by many (myself included) as a pretty high price to pay for an outfielder who had yet to establish himself as a big leaguer. Granted, he has been in Houston’s talented system throughout his career, but the fact that he hasn’t been able to meant that the win-now Astros determined he was expendable.
After watching him play for a few weeks and learning more about what he brings to the table, I can see why the Blue Jays are interested in having a closer look at him. He brings some power potential, and he has a nice set of wheels that could be a benefit on the base paths, and also in the outfield. That said, there are flaws in his game, like a weak throwing arm, and possibly other factors working against him when it comes to fitting into this rebuild.
First, he’ll have to prove that he’s a better option than what the Blue Jays already have in their outfield ranks, and that’s far from a given. I would argue that Fisher’s ideal position would be in left field, but that’s all but locked down for Lourdes Gurriel Jr. for the foreseeable future. Randal Grichuk will occupy either right field, or possibly centre going forward, leaving just one starting spot left. Either way it shakes down, Fisher still has to prove himself more valuable than Teoscar Hernandez, Billy McKinney, Anthony Alford, and others throughout the system.
Secondly, Fisher’s contract makes his a complicated situation, as the Blue Jays will have to carry him on their big league roster in 2020 since he’ll be out of minor league options. That sounds like it should be relatively easy to do, but we’ve seen how much roster juggling has had to happen to get this team through a 162 game season, and I’m sure that type of thing will continue to some degree next year as well, especially with the pitching staff.
If Fisher isn’t viewed as one of the three starters, normally that 4th outfielder spot would be someone that could be sent down when the team needs an extra bullpen arm or a spot starter. That’s what McKinney has experienced several times this year, and that flexibility has allowed the Blue Jays to make things work at times when they’ve needed to get creative. That type of roster juggling is a lot more difficult when your fourth outfielder can’t be sent down.
As a third point, and one that admittedly may not factor into the equation for next season at all, but the Blue Jays will have payroll money available, and not many places to spend it in their lineup. The front office will enjoy the payroll freedom that comes with entry-level contracts for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B), Bo Bichette (SS), Cavan Biggio (2B), Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire (C), and even Rowdy Tellez (1B). Throw in just 12 million for Grichuk (he’ll go down to 9.33 million annually from 2021-23), and 2.5 million for Gurriel Jr., and that’s a very cheap core. If the Blue Jays want to spend money to upgrade their lineup, they’ll have the ability to add an outfielder of pretty much any salary.
Add it all up and Fisher’s future in Toronto could be a little murky, at least in terms of looking at the long-term picture. He’ll have to prove himself, and so far his .202/.297/.394 slash line has been underwhelming, even if it’s in a small sample size of just 104 at-bats. The Blue Jays aren’t going to give up on him any time soon by any means, but these last 29 games might be more important for him than any other player on the roster.