Blue Jays: Is Randal Grichuk an asset or a liability?

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 15: Randall Grichuk #15 of the Toronto Blue Jays watches the ball clear the fence as he hits a home run in the third inning during a MLB game against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre on September 15, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 15: Randall Grichuk #15 of the Toronto Blue Jays watches the ball clear the fence as he hits a home run in the third inning during a MLB game against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre on September 15, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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Randal Grichuk had an up and down first season after signing a five year extension with the Blue Jays. Going forward, should he be viewed as an asset or a liability?

Because it’s the off-season and there are no MLB games for the hardcore baseball fans to watch, many of us are glued to the free agent market, off-season rumours, and dreaming about how our favourite teams could improve before the 2020 campaign gets underway.

For the Blue Jays, there are several needs that have been widely discussed here at Jays Journal, including the obvious one in the rotation, the bullpen, possibly at first base, and also in the outfield. That last one has been debated a fair bit, but I believe that the general consensus from (most) fans and writers is that the Blue Jays could really use an upgrade in centre field over what Teoscar Hernandez produced last year, especially on defence.

The other player who saw significant time up the middle last year was Randal Grichuk, who flipped between there and spending time in right field. He played all over the outfield while he was with the St. Louis Cardinals earlier in his career, but when he was brought to Toronto the idea was that he’d be the everyday right fielder, trying to fill the shoes of the departed Jose Bautista. After Kevin Pillar was traded to San Francisco last year, Grichuk was one of several players tried out in centre, and he’s still viewed as a back-up/part-time plan there for now as far as we can tell.

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Despite the fact that he covered two outfield positions and hit 31 home runs last season, there is a growing sentiment that Grichuk is a bit of a liability for the Blue Jays going forward. That’s largely because of the contract extension he signed before the beginning of last season, totalling five years and 52 million dollars. He’ll make 12 million in 2020 before making $9,333,333 in each of the last three seasons. As a 28-year-old outfielder capable of moving around and hitting 30+ home runs. why are some folks starting to feel this way?

When you take a deeper dive into his numbers from last season, there are reasons for frustration with the Texas native’s production. He slashed .232/.280/.457 over 151 games, which just isn’t very good even when you consider his 31 home runs, 29 doubles, and 80 RBI. Those power numbers were enough to save his oWAR mark and keep it in the black, coming in at 1.0. The bigger surprise is that baseballreference.com had Grichuk rated as a -0.9 for dWAR last season and just 0.3 bWAR overall. Fangraphs wasn’t a whole lot nicer to him, ranking him as a 0.5 fWAR player. and valuing his contribution at 4.4 million dollars. When you consider that he was worth 2.1 fWAR (and 16.5 million in 2018), it’s fair to be disappointed with how things went last season.

Because he just received an extension, and fans hoped for growth and not regression in 2019, I believe that’s the majority of the reason for the growing sentiment. Throw that on top of the performance of the talented rookies last season, and some folks are wondering if the commitment the Blue Jays made to Grichuk was premature. For comparison’s sake, Bo Bichette was worth 1.7 fWAR in just 46 games last year,

If we’re asking whether Grichuk should be viewed as an asset or a liability, I honestly don’t think it’s fair to make that judgement just yet. I know that sounds crazy now that he’s been a Blue Jay for two full seasons, but I’d like to see what 2020 brings before I make my decision. There’s no doubt that his on-base percentage has to improve in order for him to be a full-time starter, but I’d also like to see him stick in one position in the outfield as well. That may require the Blue Jays actually getting a full-time centre fielder (or even in right), but I believe that should be the goal anyway.

Grichuk essentially earned his contract extension during the second half of the 2018 season when he slashed .280/.326/.569 with 14 home runs, 33 RBI, and 21 doubles in just 225 at-bats. That type of production would make the third-year Blue Jay an absolutely steal going forward, but even if he could meet halfway between that and what he did in 2019, he’s still a viable outfielder as a complimentary piece.

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I don’t walk around with rose-coloured glasses on either, so I do understand some of the frustration that I’ve been reading about Grichuk, and I agree that I had hoped to see better from him in 2019. However, I’m not ready to call him a liability at this point, especially not with an outfield-needy team like the Blue Jays. With a talented and exciting lineup around him, it would be great to see Grichuk make those improvements next season, and hopefully a year from now we’ll be talking about his contract being a steal at just 9.33 million for three more years. Maybe I’m naive, but I’m not ready to write him off as an asset just yet.

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