Steve Phillips Says José Bautista Is Now Atop a Thoroughly Uninspiring List of Outfield Options for the Jays

José Bautista
Photo Credit: Bill Striecher-USA TODAY Sports

Over at TSN.ca, Steve Phillips has a thing, and because it’s January and nothing else is going on, I’m going to point you in the direction of Steve Phillips’ thing (something he’d normally do himself — HEYO!). 

In the piece he tells us that José Bautista has worked his way back into being the Blue Jays’ top choice on the outfield trade and free agent markets. OK, then!

But let’s not make this about Bautista, since I feel like that’s been talked to death. Lets look at some of the other names on what Phillips says is the Jays’ list of alternatives. Because… yeesh. Sorta.

“The first-choice options include: Brandon Moss, Michael Saunders, Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista. Chris Coghlan and Angel Pagan are on the call list too, but only in case of desperation,” he writes.

I know what you’re thinking: this looks exactly like the list anyone would have made if they were told to come up with corner outfield options the Blue Jays are looking at right now, I’m surprised this is all that a super-connected insider could dig up! Also: good lord, these players kinda suck.

On the latter front you’d certainly be right. But before we get into just how much they kinda suck, let’s remind ourselves of a couple things. Though the Jays have yet to replace the seven wins they got out of Bautista, Encarnación, and Saunders in 2016, they’re still a pretty damned good team: excellent defence up the middle, a perennial MVP candidate in Josh Donaldson, and a very strong rotation. Morales and Pearce are projected to 2.5 wins — which the Jays are obviously hoping is light on Kendrys’ end — and if you add in an extra win for the difference between Francisco Liriano’s projection and what they got out of R.A. Dickey last season, it’s… still not great. But there’s not the huge gulf between last year’s team and this one that the fan base’s biggest Chicken Little impersonators will tell you, especially with time still left to make up some of that difference.

Of course, the idea isn’t just to get back to the level they were at least year, when the Jays held on to squeak into the Wild Card game in the last week of the season, but to improve — like the Red Sox very much have this winter. But… uh… baby steps. 

So here’s who we’re to believe the Jays are looking at:

Brandon Moss: A strikeout machine, but not the good kind, like you want. Moss is one of these types, like Justin Smoak, that serves to remind us that wRC+ is a big picture stat — or at least his 2016 did. Hey, he was above average as a hitter last year (105 wRC+), except just about all the value he provided came in small, very high peaks (i.e. the 28 times he hit a home run), and game-in, game-out most of his season was really a big trough. Moss had a .225 average and .300 on-base in 2016. He struck out in 30% of his plate appearances. And while I hesitate to argue with teh maths, I’ll take a hard pass on that. His power was down in 2015, so he was even worse. The only reason anyone would consider him is the fact that in 2013 and 2014 he walked a little more, struck out a little less, had better batted ball numbers, and put up a couple seasons above two wins despite having poor defensive numbers compared to the last couple years. Still giving him a hard pass, though — unless we’re talking about a minor league deal with an invite.

Michael Saunders: As we all know, Saunders was godawful after his All-Star appearance. His bone-on-bone knee means he’s, sadly, not as athletic as he used to be, and though 2016 was mostly a healthy season, durability is always going to be a concern. When healthy, though, he’s been a decent enough hitter. His career wRC+ of 97 is nothing to write home about, but after a bumpy start to his career, he’s posted a solid 110 mark since 2012. But, Jesus, that second half. It was hard to watch. And honestly, given his presumed low cost and the fact that the Jays would know more than anyone if he was battling through something, you’d think they’d have jumped at him by now if they thought the “real” Saunders was the first half version.

Jay Bruce: When I wrote about Bruce earlier this week, I suggested that the Jays have maybe — hopefully! — been unfairly linked to him this this, because of the trade they had in place last year for him that fell apart. The situation then was clearly different: Bruce had a whole lot more theoretical appeal with an option year on his contract — especially because the Jays knew they might lose both of their corner outfielders. The other side of that notion, though, is that the club was apparently willing to give him regular at-bats then, so why wouldn’t they be now? And the fact of the matter is, he’s a fit as a platoon partner with Melvin Upton. Bruce is long removed from his best years in Cincinnati, but he’s still not awful against right-handed pitching — over the last two years he’s posted a 110 wRC+ against them in 884 plate appearances (in 2016 his mark was 124). And over his last two seasons, Upton has produced a 128 wRC+ against leftes (albeit in only 220 PA). That’s hardly atrocious as a cheap platoon, even with them providing defence that’s not as good as it used to be. But it’s still… ugh. If the Jays did that and added a full-time outfielder for the other corner? That I could stomach.

Curtis Granderson: I’d be fun and funny if the Jays could land both Bruce and Granderson, and it would really be a fit for the Jays, while allowing the Mets to hand right field to Michael Conforto, with Yoenis Cespedes set to patrol left. New York does need a centrefielder, and the Jays do have a coupl e on their roster, but I don’t see either club handing the reins to Dalton Pompey, so it’s probably going to have to be one or the other, if anyone. Granderson seems the obvious choice between the two, even if three of his last four years haven’t been what we’d think of as peak Curtis Granderson years (though he had a great, 5.1 WAR season in 2015). His walk rate is still very strong, and he still has a decent amount of power (something maybe he’d be able to exhibit more of at Rogers Centre, as he very clearly has cut down on his strikeouts in New York’s more spacious Citi Field, compared to his previous years selling out for power, aiming for Yankee Stadium’s short porch). He’s no longer a base stealing threat, but his metrics for base running are still very strong, and the defensive metrics look at him very favourably since his move away from centre. Thing is, he trended towards being a platoon player of late, with a 96 wRC+ against lefties in 2016, though that number is blurred somewhat by a good slugging percentage. Underlying the wRC+ was an ugly .226/.298/.425 line, a 24.8% strikeout rate, and a walk rate that was about half of what it was against right-handers. He was even worse (60 wRC+) in the split the season before, but made up or it posting a 150 wRC+ against right handers. You could platoon him, but if you’re doing that, Bruce actually edged him in the split by wRC+ in 2016, and would probably come quite a bit cheaper. Still, though: the Jays should do this. And sign Bautista. There’s an extra projected 4.5 wins right there. (Plus, not that they should think this way, the fact that Granderson is a “name” would serve this front office well on the PR front, I think.)

Chris Coghlan: In the two years before 2016, Coglan had a decent walk rate, kept strikeouts down, put up some tasty OBPs, and was generally exactly the kind of low-cost player the Jays ought to be looking at to fill one of their corner outfield holes. Then he went and put up a .188/.290/.318 line over 300 plate appearances. He was especially awful in the first half, and I’m not yet ready to buy his second half “rebound” (his wRC+ was 128), as it came in fewer than 100 plate appearances, mostly in September, after his playing time was cut. Would I give him a Gavin Floyd-type minor league deal with a bonus for making the club out of Spring Training? Absolutely. But there are probably a few of those options out there for him — and while the Jays having actual openings in the big leagues might make such an offer more enticing from them than others, I imagine some shitty team will offer him a small amount of guaranteed money, too. Whoever lands him on a big league deal might even get a bargain, but that’s a tough bet to make. And unless the Jays are fully prepared to walk away and walk away quick, I’d pass on this one.

Angel Pagan: I mentioned Pagan in a post earlier this week as well, because he really does seem like he’d fit here, even if Phillips says he’s on the second tier list. The projections aren’t great, he’s not exactly the picture of durability, and he’s certainly not young, but there are things to like. He’s a switch hitter who will give you a little bit of on-base, low strikeouts, decent base running, good outfield defence now that he’s firmly a corner guy, and a couple of World Series rings (for whatever they’re worth). Shit, he even produced more WAR this season than Bautista. Honestly, I don’t hate the idea. Though you could have said a lot of similar things a year ago about Ben Revere and I would have not been hearing any of it. This is where we’re at, folks! Ugh.

Which is to say: SIGN JOSÉ ALREADY! … and then add one of these guys as well