Blue Jays: Why moving Randal Grichuk to CF is the right move

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 14: Randal Grichuk #15 of the Toronto Blue Jays before the start of a game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on July 14, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 14: Randal Grichuk #15 of the Toronto Blue Jays before the start of a game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on July 14, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images) /

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkis let us know that they’re leaning toward starting Randal Grichuk in centre field, which given the way the rest of the roster is built, is a wise decision.

One of the biggest questions of the off-season for the Blue Jays has been who would start in centre field in 2020. On Friday, Ross Atkins may have already given us the answer before his team has played their first Grapefruit League game.

When asked about the outfield picture, the Blue Jays’ GM mentioned that he envisions Randal Grichuk being the primary centre fielder, a position the 28-year-old played for 56 games in 2019. That decision is ultimately up to Charlie Montoyo as the club’s manager, but I’m sure he’s talked about the subject with Atkins if the latter is discussing it publicly with the media.

The Blue Jays find themselves in this position after being unable to acquire an upgrade for the middle of the outfield, but fortunately they’re not in a position of desperation. Sure, it would have been nice to find that type of piece that may be missing from the current group, but there’s an argument that they’ve had the solution all along in Grichuk, at least relative to what was available over the winter at the position.

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Without a new addition, the Blue Jays still have a few in-house options beyond Grichuk as well. Prior to Atkins’ statements on Friday, many of us expected that Teoscar Hernandez could resume duties in centre, where he played most of the time to finish off last year. Derek Fisher didn’t have a strong defensive showing as a Blue Jay last year, but he’s also considered to be capable in centre, as is Anthony Alford, who may get a shot to make the team out of Spring Training after all.

However, at least for the time being I would argue that Grichuk is the best choice, unless Alford wins the job in Dunedin, which is somewhat unlikely at this point. Despite the Blue Jays seemingly wanting to get him out of centre field last year, he wasn’t all that bad when you look at the numbers. Affording to Fangraphs, he posted a UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) of -0.2, which was better than his -0.4 in right field, and Hernandez’s -7.3 at the position. I can’t help but wonder if that number will improve if he’s committed to playing up the middle as well, as he’s been a positive contributor there in the past while with the Cardinals.

One thing that’s very clear is that he’s a better defender than Hernandez, who looks poised to split time between right field and designated hitter this season. Without the added pressure of playing in centre, the Blue Jays will hope that Hernandez can continue the type of hitting performance he had in the second half of 2019, and giving him a less demanding position could be very beneficial on both sides of the ball. Even with an improved glove last season, he has much higher upside as a corner outfielder/DH who can focus on hitting as his primary point of value.

That added defensive responsibility shouldn’t be as big of a problem for Grichuk, at least according to his resume. For what it’s worth, he mentioned that he’s battled some injuries while playing in the past, but now that he’s healthy entering the 2020 campaign, he’s looking forward to the opportunity that the Blue Jays are going to put in front of him. From an article on Friday from Sportnet’s Shi Davidi:

"“I’ve battled a lot of stuff when I’ve been in centre,” he continued, “so I’m kind of excited to get a chance to play every day. Obviously I know, six months, things can change. But I’m going to work out there as if I’m going to be out there until they tell me different.”"

As I wrote about a few weeks ago, the 2020 season will be an important one for Grichuk and his future with the Blue Jays, and this move could help cement his place in Toronto going forward if things go well. Moving him away from the outfield corner slightly lessens the pressure on him to produce at the plate as long as he’s playing solid defence, and if he can do both then he’ll be a real asset.

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We’ll see how it goes for the California native, but for the time being I think the Blue Jays are making the right decision by making him their centre fielder. We’ll see if the plan remains the same throughout the season, or even by Opening Day, but right now it’s the one that makes the most sense to me.