Offseason Needs: Corner Outfield


Previous parts of our Offseason Needs series are below

Part One: Starting Pitching Depth
Part Two: Backup Catcher
Part Three: Relief Pitching

The Blue Jays are in an interesting position when it comes to corner outfield options. They have ample depth in Ezequiel Carrera, Steve Pearce, Teoscar Hernandez, Dalton Pompey, Anthony Alford, Dwight Smith and Harold Ramirez. But none of them are top tier players. And with the exception of Alford, none project to be stars in the future.

So the natural inclination is to deal from a position of depth to upgrade. They don’t necessarily have to move outfield prospects for a more established outfielder. They could move those prospects for a starting pitcher or a late inning reliever. But in some way or another, the team needs an upgrade in left and right field.

I could go in depth on some of the free agents available, but frankly, I don’t see the Blue Jays as serious players on the market for Lorenzo Cain or Carlos Gomez. Cain will almost certainly want a job in centre field, which for obvious reasons the Jays can’t accommodate. Gomez’s clubhouse reputation leaves a lot to be desired. And while John Gibbons hilariously noted today that this type of thing wouldn’t be an issue, his All Star level 2013 season feels like a long, long time ago. Production-wise, it’s uncertain what he’ll provide.

J.D. Martinez has to at least get a mention here. Scott Boras has often let his clients sit on the market for a while, patiently waiting for the big deal to fall in their lap. Last season the Blue Jays moved quickly and if Atkins remains true to that form, it’s unlikely the Jays will be players for Martinez.

And yes, the Jay Bruce rumours simply will not die. But we covered that already. It’s still a ‘no’.

So let’s jump right into trade possibilities. I’ve tried to make these as realistic as possible. Sure, there’s a non-zero chance the Jays try to trade for Bryce Harper. But I’ll leave you to browse the sordid depths of Twitter if you want to dream on absurdities such as those.

Stephen Piscotty

The Cardinals have an excessive number of outfielders and have made no secret about their desire to move one. It’s more or less a foregone conclusion that one will be traded before Opening Day. Now, the Cards are no dummies. When they signed Piscotty to a 6 year contract (plus option) they obviously saw enough skill worth committing to long-term. Just because his production backed up in 2017 doesn’t mean they don’t believe in him anymore. They could very well prefer to trade Randal Grichuk, Dexter Fowler or even sell high on late bloomer Jose Martinez.

Piscotty won’t be had for peanuts. Luckily the Jays have more than peanuts to offer. In fact, the Cardinals have a need for relief pitching and hey, the Jays are pretty well stocked with bullpen depth. There could be a match.

I know what you’re thinking – don’t trade our top pitching prospects! And in dealing with the Cardinals I don’t think the Jays would have to. Both teams are in win-now mode. The Cards need late inning contributors immediately. A high ceiling kid like Nate Pearson would be a great add for any team, but I think the Cards would prefer an established arm that helps them in 2018. This is where the Jays could leverage their ability to develop homegrown pitchers like Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes or Carlos Ramirez. Look at what relievers are signing for this offseason:

Contracts for Relief Pitchers as of Dec. 12, 2017
PlayerTeam2018 Projected WARYears signed forGuaranteed money
Luke GregersonCardinals0.62 (with vesting option)$11M
Mike MinorRangers1.53$28M
Brandon MorrowCubs0.72 (with vesting option)$21M
Pat NeshekPhillies0.6216.25M
Yusmeiro PetitAthletics0.22$10M

And while not homegrown, Joe Biagini or Dominic Leone could also be trade targets. Point being, the Jays have a few relievers making near league minimum salaries, who can contribute now, and are under team control for several years. Why spend $5.5 million in free agency again when they could spend $500k and move an outfielder they’re going to lose anyway?

Would one of these pitchers by himself get Piscotty? Almost certainly not. But there are other pieces the Jays could add to facilitate a trade to a team that, by all indications, is ready to deal.

Nick Castellanos

In contrast to the Cardinals, the Tigers are in rebuild mode. In this scenario, the Blue Jays would need to part with young talent. Castellanos is under team control for two more seasons. Due to his struggles defensively at third base, the Tigers moved him to right field in September, perhaps as a showcase to other teams that he at least has some versatility.

Castellanos has long been a breakout candidate given how hard he hits balls. But curiously, the power spike still hasn’t really come. Sure, 26 home runs last year is nothing to sneeze at, and for some players that would be considered their breakout year. But home runs are up across baseball and 26 is no longer the feat it once was. Especially for someone with Castellanos’ skills.

Last season he hit 199 balls at 95 mph or harder. This tied him for 12th most, with none other than NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. But he finished another year without cracking a .500 slugging percentage. If the Blue Jays believe there’s another level of production hidden in Castellanos’ bat, they may decide to part with some notable prospects to get him.

(Let’s not underestimate the value of having Josh Donaldson on the team too. He could be the perfect mentor for a younger player who wants to change his swing mechanics in order to unlock power, just as he did years ago.)

Steamer Projections have Castellanos at 1.2 WAR for 2018. Fangraphs Depth Charts bumps it up to 1.5. This obviously isn’t the type of production worth trading good prospects for. But with a move to right field he should see an improvement in defensive WAR components. And if that true offensive breakout comes in the next two seasons, the Jays could luck into an All Star caliber right fielder.

Marcell Ozuna

The Miami Marlins are having a fire sale. When have we heard that before? Gone are Stanton and Dee Gordon. The next ones to move might be Ozuna and Christian Yelich. The Marlins have gone on record to say that Ozuna won’t cost as much as Yelich to acquire, which makes sense. Ozuna will become a free agent sooner than Yelich and doesn’t have as impressive a track record. That said, his 2017 season was excellent.

Ozuna’s 4.8 fWAR and .376 OBP both ranked 8th among qualified outfielders. His .548 SLG, 142 wRC+ and 37 home runs all ranked 6th. Even if his stats take a step back next year, this is a player who can still hit in the middle of the Jays’ lineup and provide above average defence in left field. This would move Carrera to a bench role, where he’s better suited anyway.

What would it take to acquire Ozuna? The Marlins are obviously looking to shed payroll so it would be a package of prospects. When the rebuilding White Sox dealt an outfielder of their own to the Nationals last year, Adam Eaton‘s trade value was higher than Ozuna’s, as he was coming of a 6.2 WAR season and had five years of team control compared to Ozuna’s two. So the incredible prospect haul of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning is not what the Jays would have to part with. But it may be a poor man’s version of that, such as Anthony Alford, Richard Urena and Justin Maese. I know if I’m the Marlins, I’m certainly not asking for anything less.

Avisail Garcia

With a .330/.380/.506 slash line and 4.2 fWAR in 2017, Garcia was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal rebuilding White Sox lineup. But that level of production is almost certainly not sustainable. If the White Sox are shopping Garcia as a middle of the order bat, the Blue Jays should pass. As an adequate-but-not-a-star outfielder? They should listen.

Garcia’s .392 BABIP led baseball last year and was substantially higher than his previous 3-year average of .311. If we use Mike Podhorzer’s expected BABIP formula and plug in Garcia’s 2017 batted ball data, it spits out a .332 xBABIP. So expect Garcia’s production to go from a .330 AVG to more like a .280 average. His career home run-to-fly ball ratio is 15% so he can probably replicate his 18 home runs. But that’s not enough from a guy hitting 3rd, 4th or 5th in a contending lineup.

Unfortunately there is no defensive value here to pull up some regression at the plate. For his career, Garcia has cost his team 19 runs across 3457.2 innings in right field. His -4.7 UZR/150 also grades him as below average.

If the Jays pay a price for a 20 HR .280 hitter with poor defense, that’s fine. But how much of an upgrade is that on what the Jays might already have?

Well, there might actually be upside here. Garcia did hit the ball hard this year. Really hard. In fact, his 90.1 mph average exit velocity ranked 32nd hardest among 387 players with 100+ ABs. What’s held him back from turning his hard hit balls into more extra base hits is his launch angle. So at 26, it’s possible another team works on that with him and finds some untapped power. I just wouldn’t pay the prospect capital for this hypothetical version of Garcia.

These are four potential trade targets but there are others. To find some, just look at other rebuilding or smaller market teams with assets to move.

If the Jays think Alex Gordon has a bounce-back season in him, maybe they ask the Royals to keep a chunk of his salary and send him their way.

Are the Reds going to contend while Adam Duvall and Billy Hamilton are still in their prime?

Maybe the Rays feel that Steven Souza Jr. is expendable with the emergence of 22-year old Jake Bauers or speedster Mallex Smith in the outfield.

There are lots of options out there. And judging from the following tweet, maybe the Jays are closer to finding a trade partner than we even realize.