The 2020 off-season has been a successful period for the Blue Jays. The acquisitions of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, and Chase Anderson bolstered the starting rotation and the Travis Shaw signing added some positional flexibility and a left-handed bat. However, there is an area that requires some attention at some point: the outfield.
The following are the reasons why the Blue Jays should improve their outfield:
- The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays outfield have averaged fWARs of 16.1, 17.7, and 10.9 over the past three seasons, respectively
- The Jays outfield averaged a 3.2 fWAR during the past three seasons, which lagged their 2015 mark of 12.5
- Steamer projects a 4.8 fWAR for the Blue Jays outfield in 2020, which trails the 10.8, 14.6, and 6.2 fWAR projections for the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays, respectively
- In my opinion, any four-player combination of Randal Grichuk, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, Billy McKinney, and Anthony Alford does not project to be a championship-caliber outfield beyond 2020
- According to Baseball Prospectus, the highest-rated outfield prospect for the Jays is Griffin Conine, who is forecast to be a solid, everyday corner outfielder (2 to 3 fWAR)
Therefore, the Blue Jays need to upgrade their outfield group. This can be accomplished through free agency and/or trades. It is not crucial that the Jays improve their outfield this off-season; they will likely not contend for a playoff spot in 2020. However, if the opportunity presents itself, it would be prudent for the Jays to seriously consider such an acquisition in the 2020 off-season. It’s better to be a year too early than a year too late.
Previously, I wrote about free agent Marcell Ozuna’s candidacy for an outfield spot with the Blue Jays. Now, I will examine two center field trade targets to consider: Ender Inciarte and Starling Marte. These names were selected because those players have recently been raised in Jays Journal articles and in the Comments Section. You speak, we listen!
To get a sense of what players could be involved in a trade for each target, I used the trade simulator at Baseballtradevalues.com. I have not spent a lot of time on that website but some trade values look out of whack to me. Take the case of Ryu, who has a trade value of negative 9.3. Accordingly, use the proposed trades provided in this article as a spark to start a discussion. They are offered for entertainment purposes only.
The Inciarte case
Inciarte hails from Venezuela and made his MLB debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 2, 2014. Table 1 demonstrates that he profiles as a great-glove, weak-bat center fielder. Inciarte is a below-average hitter, as evidenced by his career 94 wRC+. 2019 was not a good year for Inciarte: he spent 109 days on the Injured List with back and hamstring ailments and played in only 65 games.
- Among outfielders with the minimum number of qualified opportunities (per Statcast), his OAA ranked #3 of 90 (20) and #2 of 87 (21) in 2017 and 2018, respectively
- His DRS ranked 24th out of 56 in 2017 and 5th of 57 in 2018
- Inciarte has had good speed but is not a burner; his highest percentile sprint-speed ranking was 77th in 2015
- What has made him a premier defender is his Outfielder Jump, which has been no worse than 88th percentile during the 2016-2018 period (no 2019 data available for Inciarte due to the small number of games played)
- His OBP in 2019 was higher than any 2019 Jays outfielder
- Steamer projects a 1.4 fWAR for Inciarte in 2020, which would be second on the Jays (tied with Gurriel Jr.) and would increase the outfield’s projected 2020 fWAR by a net 1.0
- Inciarte’s salary is reasonable at $7.7 Million and $8.7 Million in 2020 and 2021, respectively
- The team has a club option for $9 Million in 2022 (there is a $1.02 Million buyout)
- The 2020 season will be Inciarte’s age-30 season. Accordingly, age plus the recent injury history does raise red flags regarding his ability to play a full season in 2020 and beyond
- His xwOBA has been in the bottom-third of MLB hitters in each of the past three seasons
2019 was a difficult season for Inciarte. His OAA slipped from 2018’s mark of 21 to 3; part of that decline can be attributed to the fact that Inciarte only played in 65 games (156 in 2018). His DRS was 17 in 2018 but was minus 1 this most recent season. That negative DRS may be a sign that Inciarte will no longer be an average or better center field defender going forward. However, I looked at data for center fielders in each season starting in 2010, through to and including 2019. There were 14 centerfielders who had a positive DRS season after they had posted a negative DRS stat in an earlier campaign. Therefore, the negative DRS for Inciarte in 2019 may not mean that he will be a below-average center field defender in 2020.
Alford and Dasan Brown for Inciarte.
The Marté case
Marte was born in the Dominican Republic and made his MLB debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 26, 2012. Starting in 2012, through to and including 2017, Marte was a defensive beast in left field. His DRS was 82 over that period; only Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon, and Lorenzo Cain had higher DRS figures than Marte. Commencing in 2018, Marte became the Pirates starting center fielder. His 2017 was limited to 77 games due to an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. He is a career 116 wRC+ hitter and 2020 will be his age-31 season. Table 2 contains some important data for Marte.
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- Over his last four, full seasons (2015-2016 and 2018-2019), Marte averaged a 3.4 fWAR
- Marte’s xwOBA was 78th percentile and 88th in 2018 and 2019, respectively
- His 2019 OBP was better than any 2019 Jays outfielder
- Steamer projects a 2.9 fWAR for Marté in 2020, which would be best on the Jays and would increase the outfield’s projected 2020 fWAR by a net 2.5
- His fWAR was 90th and 83rd in 2018 and 2019, respectively
- Other than 2018’s 10 OAA (ranking #12 of 87), Marte has generally been in the middle of the pack when it comes to OAA (per Statcast)
- Marte has exceptional speed as evidenced by his 92nd percentile sprint-speed ranking in 2019
- Unlike his play as a left field defender, where he was elite during the 2012-2017 period, Marte has not been as dominant in center field; his total 2018-2019 OAA was 12 and his DRS was minus 8
- Marte is under contract for 2020 ($11.5 million) and there is a $12.5 million team option ($1 million buyout) for 2021. Therefore, as of this date, the Jays would only have a maximum of two seasons of Marte. That is not optimal given that the Jays want to be competitive not only now but also beyond 2021. Also, at this stage of the rebuild, it is not ideal to give up player resources to obtain Marte’s services for only two seasons
Alford, Brown, and Trent Thornton for Marte.
Of the two center field candidates, I think Inciarte is a better choice for the following reasons:
- Assuming Inciarte can return to form in 2020, he has proven himself to be a better center field defender than Marte
- Grichuk would provide similar center field defense to Marté (or so I have been told). Accordingly, from a performance perspective, adding Marté to play left field would be similar to adding Ozuna
- Inciarte’s contract terms can provide an additional year of service compared to Marte’s deal
The last word
In my opinion, the Jays outfield does not project to be championship-caliber; near-term improvements will have to be made via trade and/or a free agent signing. There may be an opportunity to acquire either Inciarte or Marte this off-season and, in my view, these are two players that Jays Management should seriously consider acquiring.