Next to starting pitching, many consider centre field to be the Jays’ area of greatest need. Here are three ideas as to how that need could be filled.
The Jays are actually not looking that bad for 2020, at least with position players. With Danny Jansen/Reese McGuire – Rowdy Tellez (maybe) – Cavan Biggio – Bo Bichette – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – Lourdes Gurriel Jr. – Teoscar Hernandez (maybe?) – Randal Grichuk, most of the position spots should be spoken for. The greatest question marks are at first base and centre field. Of these, centre field is potentially the harder need to fill.
Where might the Jays look for an upgrade in centre? There are internal options, as described by my colleague David Corcoran in this article. Or the Jays could look to push the envelope. Here are three ideas.
Toronto Blue Jays
Trade for Drew Waters
Atlanta prospect Drew Waters is a centre fielder ranked as baseball’s 28th best prospect by Baseball America. His speed, defence, and arm are all plus or plus-plus rated, and he hit to a 144 wRC+ in AA in 2019 before stumbling a bit at AAA. He is expected to be MLB-ready in late 2020/ early 2021.
So why would Atlanta ever consider trading such a valuable commodity?
Well, as good a centre field defender as Waters is, Atlanta prospect Christian Pache (“known for being potentially the best defensive player in the minors“) is even better. And Ronald Acuña Jr. is currently playing plus defence at centre, and may not welcome a move. Waters would make a fine corner outfielder, no question – but his value would be greatly decreased. So Atlanta has a conundrum – move Waters to left and accept that he is badly under-utilized, or trade him to someone who can play him in centre and get full value?
Trade for Starling Marte
Starling Marte is rumoured to be on the block by a rebuilding Pittsburgh team. The Pirates have him under team control for the next two years under options with an aggregate price of $24 million. The good news is that, up to 2019, Marte played league-average centre field and hit in the 110-120 wRC+ range, making him a 3+ WAR player. And he has had an excellent second half of 2019 with the bat, hitting for a 142 wRC+ so far. The bad news is that he will be playing 2020 at age 31, his defence took a major hit in 2019 (going from a +1 DRS/1200 in 2018 to a -9 in 2019), and that he has played 150+ games in a season exactly once in an eight-year career.
Marte would be a band-aid, granted. But $12m a year is not extortionate, and if one of the “kids” were to really step up it should be easy to move his contract. And, in theory, Marte’s price might not be that high (particularly given the increasing risk of his having to move to a corner). If you believe baseballtradevalues.com, a package of something like Fisher/Teo + Maile + Alford might be enough to get the job done with a Pirates team looking for cheap young talent.
Move Grichuk to centre
I have heard several people say that Grichuk does not appear comfortable in centre field, but appearances can be deceiving. One advantage of advanced stats is that they correct for the biases inherent in the “eye test”. Grichuk has a career DRS/1200 of 9.8 in centre field (1966 innings). That is 10th among centre fielders over the same period (minimum 1,500 innings). The Grinch is no Kevin Kiermayer, granted (KK has a holy-cow-Batman 28.8 DRS/1200) but Randal’s career DRS/1200 is better than Kevin Pillar, Brett Gardner, Jackie Bradley Jr., George Springer, etc. Would it not make sense to give him a full year in centre and see if he can maintain that level?
Grichuk’s centre field potential also makes a Marte trade more appealing. If the Jays did trade for Marte, and if Marte’s 2019 was not an aberration and he had to move to right, Grichuk could be the fallback plan.
And a fourth option – Japan
A fourth option, as discussed in an earlier article, would be to sign a Shogo Akiyama or Yuki Yanagita if they are posted by their Japanese teams. Like Marte, both players are in their 30s and would accordingly be bridges to a longer-term solution. But bridges can be useful.
The bottom line
There is always the chance that Hernandez or Alford – or someone else – will step up in spring training 2020 and claim the centre field gig for their own. But it would be prudent for the Jays to have options, particularly if they expect 2020 to be a pronounced step forward from 2019.