Heading into the 2021 season, one of the big questions regarding the roster was how the Blue Jays were going to use their four different outfielders.
George Springer signed with the Blue Jays this off-season and is slated to be the primary centre fielder, but the organization already has three other talented outfielders on the active roster in Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, and Randal Grichuk (as well as depth options in Jonathan Davis and Josh Palacious).
Hernandez is coming off a monster 2020 campaign that saw him earn a Silver Slugger and Gurriel Jr. is one of the Blue Jay’s younger core pieces. Grichuk is one of the more experienced players on the current roster and is in the third year of his five-year deal, earning roughly $27 million over the next three seasons. With the addition of Springer, unless the Blue Jays decide to use one of these outfielders in the designated hitter role, one of them was going to have to ride the pine.
At first glance, the odd man out appeared to be Grichuk (at least that is what some were thinking on social media). He has one of the more expensive contracts on the Jays roster and while he is a consistent outfielder defensively, his bat is very streaky over the course of a full season. Then the news came that Springer would begin the season on the injured list, and with him out of the lineup, Grichuk has been getting regular playing time and is not putting it to waste.
In 20 at-bats early this season, the Texas native has a .400/.478/.600 line with one home run and five RBI. In the season opener, he hit the go-ahead RBI in the 10th inning to give the Blue Jays the lead and eventually won the game. On the flip side, both Gurriel Jr. and Hernandez are off to slower starts compared to Grichuk, with both players combining for one home run and two RBI.
Grichuk is playing well to begin the season, which brings forth a few difficult questions:
1). Can Grichuk maintain this impressive start for more than just a few weeks?
2). When Springer does return from the IL, who is going to be the odd man out especially if Grichuk is playing well over the next few weeks?
The obvious answer to the first question is that his stat line will level out over time, but if he can continue to hit for consistency and keep the average around .250-.300 area, it would be a tough argument to have him sitting on the bench. His defensive ability in the corner outfield positions is solid and dependable, but as I mentioned previously, he is known to go through ups and downs when it comes to his hitting ability and one wonders if he can put that fully behind him.
The second question is more difficult to answer because there are a few different outcomes and possibilities.
Firstly, Jonathan Davis will most likely be off the roster when Springer returns, meaning the Blue Jays will just have the four outfielders. Davis is a great player to have on the bench for his defence and speed, but five outfielders on the roster is a tough sell.
When Springer comes off the injured list, the Jays could choose to have one of the outfielders be the designated hitter regularly or on occasion, whether that be a rotation between them for rest purposes, righty/lefty matchups, or having Grichuk or Hernandez be the DH full time. This argument makes some sense as Rowdy Tellez, the Blue Jays first baseman/designated hitter is really struggling to begin the season and the team could look for an alternative option once the AAA season starts up and Tellez can be sent down to regroup and refocus.
Another option would be to visit Gurriel Jr. as the utility player, considering Cavan Biggio is most likely staying at third base this season and Gurriel does have experience across the diamond. This would take Gurriel’s bat out of the lineup on more occasions compared to if he was a starter, but he would most likely still see regular action with other players having rest days throughout the season.
Management could trade one of these outfielders at some point this year, but then another discussion opens up as to who should be dealt from the group. Gurriel and Hernandez have the most value because of their age and potential/ability, but it would be tough to see either player go at the moment given the Blue Jays position to contend for playoff baseball this year. While fans may consider trading Grichuk, his value is arguably the lowest because of his contract and ability and the return would not be as impressive compared to the other two outfielders.
Considering Springer may be out for an extended period of time after he underwent an MRI on his quad yesterday, the Blue Jays don’t have to make a decision right now (as he most likely will be going on the injured list once again). This allows the player’s stat lines to even out and gives the organization more time to make a decision on who will get less time in the lineup when Springer returns or if they want to juggle the lineup to incorporate all four outfielders in the batting order through the designated hitter position.
What do you think the Blue Jays should do when Springer comes off the injured list?