Blue Jays: Trading an outfielder this winter is all but inevitable

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 13: Billy McKinney #28 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates with Teoscar Hernandez #37 after the final out in a MLB game against the Texas Rangers at Rogers Centre on August 13, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 13: Billy McKinney #28 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates with Teoscar Hernandez #37 after the final out in a MLB game against the Texas Rangers at Rogers Centre on August 13, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

With several outfielders entering the 2020 season without a minor league option left, the Blue Jays are likely going to have to make a trade this winter.

Charlie Montoyo and the Blue Jays will do their best to take advantage of the remaining dozen games in the 2019 season in as many ways as they can. Young players will look to gain valuable experience to further their development, and others will work toward establishing themselves as a part of this team for 2020 and hopefully beyond.

The Blue Jays have a lot of pieces starting to come together in their roster rebuild, but there are several question marks remaining as well. One of those would be the composition of the outfield for next season, and right now there are a lot of options on the major league roster. Montoyo has the task of trying to find playing time for at least seven outfielders who could use regular at-bats this month, and that’s not exactly a walk in the park.

While it’s great to see Lourdes Gurriel Jr. back on the diamond, he needs to play if he’s healthy, and left field is all but sewn up for him in the future. Randal Grichuk will likely finish the season with at least 30 home runs, especially after his multi-bomb game against the Yankees last night, bringing his season total to 28. He’s best suited in right field, but is capable and experienced up the middle as well.

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For the group that includes Teoscar Hernandez, Derek Fisher, Billy McKinney, Anthony Alford, and Jonathan Davis, it’s not just about the playing time they’re earning this month. The expansion of big league rosters is good for a rebuilding team because of the added depth at the end of a long season, but it also gives the front office and coaching staff a chance to evaluate a bunch of their players, especially the ones with a late promotion like Alford and Davis. Unfortunately there just aren’t enough at-bats to go around for everyone to play every day, but Montoyo has done an admirable job of creating opportunity.

Where things get complicated is when next season rolls around. If we assume that Gurriel Jr. and Grichuk have 2/3’s of the starting outfield picture sewn up, that leaves one starting spot and likely a 4th outfielder job, depending on the composition of the bench. The Blue Jays could try to hang on to everybody, but they have the difficult variable of dealing with minor league options, and three of those outfielders competing for a job are out of them.

McKinney will still have an option remaining next year, which likely cements his spot in Buffalo, and the same goes for Davis, who has two options left. As for the trio of Fisher, Hernandez, and Alford, they’ll all have to make the team out of spring training in order for the Blue Jays to avoid exposing them to waivers. The team could get creative, perhaps using Hernandez as more of a DH and carrying Fisher and Alford as a centre field platoon, but it feels like there’s a more likely ending to this logjam. Perhaps the Blue Jays will be shopping an outfielder this offseason.

As things stand right now, I don’t know that the club is confident enough in any of Hernandez/Fisher/Alford to handle the centre field job full-time next year. Perhaps that means Grichuk spends time there again next season, but I feel like the Blue Jays would rather have him in right field the majority of the time. I could see the team extending the audition for their out-of-options players into the early part of next season, but that just feels like it’s delaying the inevitable.

Right now Hernandez is easily the most established big leaguer, and he probably could serve as an asset as a DH/platoon outfielder. That said, he might be the easiest of the trio to trade this winter as well, as he’s posted 22 home runs in back to back seasons, and he’s looked better on defence this year than he did last season, even if he’s still in need of improvements out there. The other option be that the Blue Jays flip Fisher after his short audition in Toronto, taking advantage of whatever prospect shine he might have left coming from Houston, rather than his performance on the field for the Blue Jays.

What I really don’t want to see happen is the Blue Jays give up on Anthony Alford. It’s been a shame to follow his career over the last couple of seasons as he’s gone from one of the organization’s top prospects to a nearly forgotten man. The former two-sport star just hasn’t been able to stay healthy long enough to put things together enough to advance to the highest level, and his time is literally starting to run out here. It’s hard to imagine there being much of a trade market for Alford, especially compared to the other two, so I hope the Blue Jays decide to give him one more opportunity next spring before moving on.

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As I said above, it’s conceivable that the Blue Jays could carry all three of Hernandez, Fisher, and Alford on their opening day roster in order to keep them in Toronto, but I don’t know that we should count on it. With others on the roster having the ability to play in the outfield like Brandon Drury and Cavan Biggio, the ability to call up and send down McKinney and Davis, and the need to rest others in the DH spot as well, I think some sort of trade this winter is more likely. For now, let the audition continue, and hopefully the Blue Jays’ front office is preparing for what could be an off-season full of difficult decisions.