On Monday over at Sportsnet, Jeff Blair had a new column up, in which he offered up opinion flashes that I cannot stop reading in the voice of Norm MacDonald as Larry King. I suspect that he’s doing this because he’s blocked so many people on Twitter that in order to actually have anybody read his tweeted out thoughts he needed to come up with an entirely new media format. (Full disclosure: I like Blair! And yet I too am one of the many, many, many, many people he’s blocked.)
Whatever the reasoning, regarding the Jays he laid this on us:
The Blue Jays were in enough on free agent Lorenzo Cain that they called his agent to check in just before making the trade for Randal Grichuk. I still think the Jays add one more outfield bat before spring training.
Take that last bit for whatever you think it’s worth, but I don’t think it’s outrageous to think that the Jays might yet think they can scoop up a free agent who could potentially help them for next to no money. The opportunity for improvement is there, I think. Making the pieces actually fit, though, isn’t going to be easy.
There’s one piece I see that might fit well enough to shift everything around for him, though: Jarrod Dyson.
The left-handed hitter, and former Royals centrefielder, is still out there looking to be signed. MLBTR predicted he’d land a deal for two years and $12 million — and that was before the offseason started and the market got soft. For a team like the Blue Jays, who have Anthony Alford coming, and fellow right-handed hitters Randal Grichuk or Teoscar Hernández to cover centrefield against left-handed pitching in the meantime, Dyson kinda looks like an ideal piece at what I can only assume will be an ideal price. That is, were it not for the club’s incumbent centrefielder.
True, Dyson doesn’t have much of a bat, but the shape of the production that he does provide would, in my view, look a whole lot better here than what the Jays can expect from Kevin Pillar. Consider:
- Dyson’s lack of power drags down his wRC+ vs. RHP, but in 2017 his mark in that split was still 100. He slashed .271/.342/.388.
- Even though in 2016 he produced just an 86 wRC+ against right-handers, he did so with a .328 on-base.
- Dyson is a strong defender, a very good base runner, and he’s been worth 5.2 WAR over the last two seasons.
Pillar has many of the same qualities: great defender, not many steals but a very good base runner nonetheless, and he’s been worth the exact same WAR, per Fangraphs, over the last two years. But where the two players really diverge is against right-handed pitching.
We tend to focus on a hitter’s overall numbers, and in that regard Pillar is… uh… pretty unimpressive. After posting a 92 wRC+ in 2015, he’s dipped to 81 and then 85 over the past two seasons. But you may be surprised to learn that when hitting against left-handed pitching, Pillar was a monster in 2017. He posted a 148 wRC+ and slashed .336/.381/.559 over 155 PA in the split. Those are terrific numbers, but what they mean, of course, is that to come up with his 85 wRC+ in the overall, he had to be downright pitiful against right-handers.
Over 477 plate appearances against right-handed pitching in 2017, Pillar’s wRC+ slumped to just 64. It was at 78 the year before. The last calendar month in which he posted a wRC+ above 100 against right-handers was September of 2015 (though, to be fair, since then he’s had two months at 99 and one at 100 exactly). Over the last two calendar years, Pillar’s on-base vs. RHP has been .288. For Dyson the number is .335 (albeit in 283 fewer plate appearances).
The Jays, given the CF-capable right-handed hitters on their roster, would be better off with Dyson than Pillar, I think. Because he hits from the left side, Dyson would provide nicer, easier, more natural cover for Anthony Alford when his time arrives, allowing the youngster days off against tough righties, or being able to spell him for long stretches if he hits a slump. And until then, Dyson would give the club better production that Pillar in a much more important split, while serving as a lead-off type hitter and a genuine base-stealing threat.
Hypothetically, from left to right, the outfield against lefties could be Pearce, Grichuk, Hernández, while right-handers would see an outfield of Granderson, Dyson, Grichuk. Defensively, that’s not even bad.
Granted, carrying five outfielders is probably too many, but that’s where the team is at now anyway. Alternatively, though, they could move out Pearce and go with Yangervis Solarte, Devon Travis, or Aledmys Diaz in left field against left-handers.
Shit, that might even work! But therein lies a not-insignificant problem: how do you move out Pearce and get anything close to value back? How do you move Ezequiel Carrera? How do you move Kevin Pillar for something halfway decent when a team could just go out and grab Dyson?
Do you take pennies on the dollar for those guys? Do you eat a bunch of money and try to at least get some kind of a prospect in return? Is that pretty much all that you can do? Because if so, I could see the Jays balking. It’s not exactly good business to give up actual assets for the kinds of tiny returns I’m imagining here. Then again, maybe that’s just the reality of what those assets are worth today — maybe that value isn’t coming back, and they should perhaps just suck it up and think about going hard for something like this total revamp of a 2017 outfield that was, to put it politely, fucking inadequate.
I don’t know! Maybe there’s something I’m missing here, but if I were the Blue Jays, tough as it might be to jettison three outfielders who still have genuine utility (including one whose glove is still so elite that he’s actually pretty good), I think I could do a whole lot worse. A whooole lot. Including, I think, what they already have on the roster right now.
Make it happen!