Blue Jays, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and an Ozuna Fallout

If the Jays were to sign Marcell Ozuna, what would the implications be for Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and the rest of the the team?

My colleague Bob Ritchie recently wrote an article about the possibility of the Jays signing Marcell Ozuna.  He made the point that Ozuna is essentially a left fielder at this stage of his career, as he does not have the arm for right or the legs for centre.  But the Jays already have a left fielder with considerable promise in Lourdes Gurriel Jr.  What would be the implication to him – and to the rest of the Jays – of an Ozuna signing?

Lourdes option #1 – move him back to the infield.

Please don’t.

Lourdes option #2 – move him to right, moving Grichuk to centre

This option has a lot of merit.  The prototypical right fielder has 45-50 grade speed and defense – decent, but not centre-fielder level – but a plus (55-60) grade arm.  Think Jose Bautista 2012-14: he did not get to every ball, but he was reasonably sure-handed when he did, and it was <ahem> “inadvisable” to run against him.  Lourdes is in the Bautista mold, with 50-grade speed, 45-grade defense (though to be fair, he has only been playing OF for a year) but a 60-grade cannon arm.  He could be a substantially better RF than LF, as well as bringing more value to the team.

And as I have said before (ad nauseum?), Grichuk’s +8.5 DRS/1200 in centre field over the last five years is top-12 in baseball over that period.  Not Kiermayer holy-cow-Batman level, but pretty d*ng good.

Lourdes option #3 – trade him (for a good young starter?)

There are several problems with trading Gurriel Jr. at this point, most relating to the effect of uncertainty on his trade value.  First, he is not (yet) a particularly good outfielder.  He was a -5 DRS/1200 in left field in 2019, with a Statcast -4 Outs Above Average, so his defensive value would likely be perceived as limited.  In addition, his 2019 wRC+ of 124 was based largely on his 254 (!) in May and 174 in June.  In the second half, his wRC+ was only 78.  This is similar to 2018, where he set the Jays (and AL rookie) record for consecutive multi-hit games but was a below-average MLB hitter outside those 11 games. It is very possible that a potential trade partner might see Lourdes as a streaky hitter, who alternates between crazy-hot and very cold.

If that is the perception, then it is unlikely that the Jays could get top value by trading him at this time.  (I note that Steamer projects Lourdes to earn only 1.5 fWAR in 2020 and baseballtradevalues value him at $17.3 million – just slightly more than Clint Frazier)  It would make more sense, in this scenario, to move him to right field and give him a year to demonstrate consistency and defensive value.  If he could prove himself to be a consistently excellent hitter and an above-average right fielder, his trade value would be much higher (though in that scenario the Jays might well not want to trade him).

That said, the Jays should keep an open mind about trading Gurriel Jr. – just as they should for any player.  If they get an opportunity like they did when they acquired Josh Donaldson that requires including Lourdes, they should listen hard.

What about Fisher, Teoscar, Alford et al?

Obviously, acquiring Ozuna would push everyone else down a notch in the depth chart (unless Gurriel Jr. is traded).  Fisher might become the 4th outfielder, and Teoscar the DH (and possibly backup 1B and LF).  Alford and McKinney might find themselves even more on the bubble than they are now, and trading them could become even more attractive.

Next: Atkins' GM-Speak is getting pretty tired

The bottom line

I see Lourdes as being a better fit in right field than left, both for himself (based on his skills) and for the team.  The idea of trading for a power bat that would play in left – particularly one with significant upside – is attractive and consistent with the Jays’ long term plans. And, in that scenario, they could more conceivably pursue someone like Ozuna in free agency.