The Toronto Blue Jays made some hot stove noise this week, acquiring a pair of outfielders in an attempt to bolster their offense. First was Curtis Granderson who signed a one-year, $5 million deal. This was followed by a trade on Friday with the St. Louis Cardinals which landed 26-year-old Randal Grichuk.
On the surface both players appear to be an upgrade. Right fielder Jose Bautista batted just .203 last season with 23 home runs and 65 RBIs, and the left-field tandem of Steve Pearce and Ezequiel Carrera combined to hit 21 home runs and 57 RBIs. However, neither of the players acquired this past week fared much better in 2017.
Curtis Granderson batted .212 with 26 home runs and 64 RBIs, splitting time between the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers. This is on par with Bautista’s production, but slightly less when you consider Granderson scored 74 runs to Bautista’s 92.
Granderson’s batting average is not expected to improve much; his .237 mark in 2016 represents his second-best batting average over the past six seasons. He did manage to hit 82 home runs over the last three years, so there is still some power, but there is some skepticism on how much is left in the tank as he approaches his age-37 season.
As for Grichuk, he hit 22 home runs with 59 RBIs over 122 games last season. That’s exactly what Pearce and Carrera produced, except those two players combined for 76 runs and a .267 batting average to Grichuk’s 53 and .238. Grichuk posted similar numbers in 2016, giving us a baseline for his future production. He does possess more power potential which is a plus, but if he cannot rein in his 30 percent strikeout rate there is little hope for an improved batting average.
While Grichuk may not be the offensive threat the Blue Jays were looking for, he will be a huge asset defensively. His UZR as a corner outfielder is +10.9 runs. Combined with Kevin Pillar and his career 41.8 UZR in center field, the duo will save the Jays a ton of runs. Given the fact Rogers Centre is a hitter’s park and most of the Blue Jays’ staff is comprised of fly ball pitchers, the defensive boost by Grichuk is more important than what he can do at the plate.
It will be interesting to see how things play out during the season since Pence and Carrera are still on the team, as is Teoscar Hernandez, who appears destined to start the season in Triple-A. Pillar and Grichuk seem to be a lock for everyday starts. The plan is to play Granderson and Pearce in a platoon, with Pearce playing against lefties and Granderson against righties.
That leaves Carrera as the fourth or technically fifth outfielder, playing the role of late-inning defensive replacement who also provides pitch hitting and the occasional spot start. Surprisingly the 31-year-old journeyman had a 107 wRC+ last season, which was the highest in the outfield. He could easily earn more playing time should Granderson or Pence struggle offensively.
The Blue Jays did not add much offense with their latest moves, but they did improve the team defensively — sometimes that is just as important. Considering the Blue Jays were last in the American League in runs scored in 2017, they need every advantage they can get.