“Raise the floor”; it was the unofficial M.O. of the Blue Jays offseason. The three players which personified that mantra: Randal Grichuk, Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte.
In essence, they were infield backup plans for Devon Travis and Troy Tulowitzki and an outfield replacement for a departing Jose Bautista. Grichuk and Diaz have exceeded expectations as everyday players for the Blue Jays this year. Solarte, on the other hand, has played below replacement-level ball in a Blue Jays uniform.
They’re all under team control for the immediate future, but how do these guys factor into the Blue Jays’ long-term outlook?
Does Solarte Survive the Offseason Purge?
Let’s start with the most uncertain of the trio: the Venezuelan dancing sensation, Mr. Solarte. Sure, it was fun in April and May to see him bounce around the diamond as the most fun-loving member of the Blue Jays roster. His season since hasn’t been anything to laugh at.
Due to injuries to Josh Donaldson and the early season demotion of Travis, Solarte saw expanded playing time from John Gibbons. Remember way back when Solarte was hitting cleanup for this team? Where his wRC+ peaked around 150 at the beginning of May, it’s since tumbled all the way down to a 86 wRC+.
While the positional flexibility is a nice quality to have, Solarte doesn’t play any position particularly well. He also isn’t an efficient or quick baserunner (you may have noticed he doesn’t have an affinity for running out ground balls), which gives him negative values across the board.
Aside from the occasional power, there aren’t many redeeming qualities about Solarte’s skill set. With two years remaining on his contract – a $5.5 million club option for 2019 and an $8 million club option for 2020 – he’s a potential buyout candidate.
The wording of his contract is unclear, but if the Jays chose to cut ties with Solarte, they’d either have to pay one or both instalments of the buyout, which is $750,000 per season. With the Blue Jays’ glut of infielders, one can definitely see a scenario where Solarte doesn’t survive the roster crunch this winter.
However, at $5.5 million for next year, it seems like the Jays would at least pick up that option and shop Solarte on the trade market. Last night’s botched pop-up reiterated how brutal he looks on defense, but he alone isn’t holding the Blue Jays back from being a contender next year.
Some fans would be more than happy for the Blue Jays to pay 750K or more for Solarte to go away, but at the very least, he’s an okay bench bat. Plus, if the Jays bought him out, the Rays would just sign him for the league minimum and he’d post a 3-win season in Tampa Bay just because baseball is cruel.
Of all the infielders on Toronto’s depth chart, he has the least to offer and his salary is one of the highest. Much to the chagrin of disapproving fans, he likely returns for the 2019 season. Yet, it’s difficult to envision him being in Toronto for the final year of his contract.
Prediction: Solarte gets traded this offseason or bought out at the conclusion of the 2019 season.
And How About Diaz?
While Solarte’s stock tumbled as his playing time increased, Diaz dazzled at the hot corner in a new role for the Blue Jays. If one had to envision both infielders’ numbers side by side, Diaz appears as the clear favourite. You might be surprised to learn that his numbers are shockingly similar to Solarte’s this season.
Their home runs, walk rate, strikeout rate and slash lines are eerily similar (Diaz overshadows Solarte in SLG). The main difference between the two? Diaz isn’t a liability in the field and runs the bases slightly better than his counterpart.
The Blue Jays may have acquired Diaz with the intentions of playing him at shortstop, but since mid-August, he’s started 17 of his last 22 games at third base. His doesn’t have the best range at shortstop, but his arm actually plays better at the hot corner. He’ll keep third base warm until Vladimir Guerrero Jr. takes over the position next season.
If it’s an either-or scenario between Diaz and Solate, Diaz is clearly the better choice; he’s younger, a better defender and he’s under team control for four more seasons. Considering how many infielders the Blue Jays already have on the 40-man, it’s redundant to keep both guys around the next few years.
Once Vlad arrives, Diaz could shift into the utility infielder role and spell whoever starts at shortstop, assuming it’s likely Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Diaz is more than capable of playing the left side of the infield, so he seems indispensable for this Blue Jays team in transition.
Prediction: Diaz gets pushed out by the Blue Jays’ incoming infield prospects and gets traded during the 2021 offseason.
Where Does Grichuk Go?
Last of the prized offseason acquisitions from last winter: Grichuk. After one of the worst starts of the 2018 season, the Blue Jays retooled his stance slightly and his 132 wRC+ is the team’s second-best since June 1st (only Kendrys Morales’ is slightly higher at 136 wRC+).
As of this moment, the 27-year-old looks to be the most valuable of the trio for the Blue Jays, even though he’s only under team control for two more seasons.
On a team that employs many flawed players, Grichuk is one of the better well-rounded athletes on the club. The only knock against him is his nearly 30% K rate, but other than that, Grichuk has been a welcome addition to the Blue Jays roster.
If the Blue Jays were to move Kevin Pillar this offseason, Grichuk would be more than capable of playing centre field. He posted some of his best defensive numbers as a Cardinal in centre field, so he’s sort of a centre fielder in right fielder’s clothing right now.
With a full season under his belt, it’s not unreasonable to expect him to go yard 30 or more times, yet also strike out 130-140. The fact that he’s a plus defender, a capable baserunner and he can hit for power, the Blue Jays can probably live with Grichuk’s strikeouts.
Since he’s only pencilled in to be a Blue Jay through the 2020 season, Grichuk very well could bridge the gap between the current Blue Jays outfield alignment and the future iteration which may include the likes of Billy McKinney, Anthony Alford and Cavan Biggio or Jonathan Davis? Who knows.
Grichuk’s on track to hit free agency at the age of 29 and with the ageing curve of outfielders these days (especially ones who play 81 home games on turf at the Rogers Centre), he may not be a prime contract extension candidate for the Blue Jays.
In the meantime, Grichuk provides some stability in the outfield while at least two other outfield positions could be in flux for the foreseeable future.
Prediction: Grichuk walks as a free agent at the end of 2020.