Hey look, #TransactionFriday is back! Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Uhhhhh… in this case? I’m not sure!
The Blue Jays pulled the trigger on an unexpected deal, shipping hard-throwing pitching prospect Conner Greene and breakout reliever Dominic Leone to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for outfielder Randal Grichuk.
Grichuck?? Just stepped into a movie don’t make any more moves Jays!
— Andrew Stoeten (@AndrewStoeten) January 19, 2018
So you’ll be getting my analysis for now!
Grichuk is a right-handed outfielder who had a 94 wRC+ in 2017 and 103 wRC+ in 2016. He was worth 1.4 WAR in 2017 and 2.2 WAR in 2016. He plays all three outfield positions, but spent most of his innings in 2017 in either left or right field. Grichuk also clubbed 22 homers in 2017 and, much like Kevin Pillar, strikes out a bunch and never walks.
Leone, completely out of the blue, had a really good season for the Jays last year. He was originally the guy with options who rode the bus back-and-forth from Toronto to Buffalo every week, but ended up carving out a role as one of Toronto’s best righties out of the ‘pen. He posted a 2.56 ERA in 70 1/3 innings while striking out 10.4 per nine.
Greene is an enigmatic prospect with a lot of upside. He can touch 100 mph on his fastball, but has serious command issues. It seemed inevitable that Greene would soon be converted to the ‘pen. Last year, Greene posted a 5.29 ERA at Double-A while walking 5.6 batters per nine and striking out 6.2 batters per nine.
So this means that the Jays are pretty loaded up in the outfield now. They have Kevin Pillar, Zeke Carrera, Steve Pearce, and the newly-acquired Curtis Granderson and Grichuk as options in the outfield, with Teoscar Hernandez, Dalton Pompey, Dwight Smith Jr., and Anthony Alford likely starting the season in Triple-A.
I did a thing the other day about where Toronto was going to go after signing Granderson. I figured the team was better off spending money on the starting rotation than they were in the outfield. They made an upgrade, but it didn’t cost them a hell of a lot, as Grichuk carries a $2,600,000 price tag in 2018 and is arbitration eligible after the season.
I mean, Grichuk isn’t exactly the most exciting acquisition, but the Jays didn’t pay a massive price to acquire him. It seems they sold high on Leone’s breakout season and lacked faith in Greene’s ability to throw a strike consistently. Ultimately they got themselves more cheap, controllable outfield depth and another guy who can hit for power.
But is he much better than Teoscar Hernandez would have been in the same role? Better enough to validate dealing Leone and Greene? I liked Leone a lot last season, but relievers are extremely unpredictable year to year. In 2017, Dominic Leone was worth 1.5 fWAR while Grichuk was worth 1.4. But between 2015 and 2016 Leone was worth -0.7 and Grichuk was worth 5.3. This could work nicely as a sell high, buy low for the Blue Jays.
So, what now? Are the Jays going to dangle Kevin Pillar for pitching? Is one of Zeke Carrera or Steve Pearce on the way out? We shall see! And when we do get the full picture as to what they have going on, it’ll be easier to judge.
If the Jays can find a way to move Pearce’s $6.25 million salary for 2018, they can operate with an outfield of Pillar, Zeke, Granderson, and Grichuk, using the freed up cash to sign a middle-of-the-rotation starter. In doing so, they’d also be able to slide Joe Biagini back into the ‘pen, effectively replacing Leone in the process.