Photo Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

A referendum on the Randal Grichuck contract

With 29 home runs, Randal Grichuk is inching towards his first 30 home run season of his year. If he reaches that threshold and maintains his current on base percentage, Grichuk will find himself among exclusive company.

He could become the sixth player in MLB history to hit 30 or more home runs in a single season, all while posting an OBP of .285 or less. The list of infamous hitters includes Dave Kingman, Tony Batista, Rougned Odor, Cory Snyder and Tony Armas.

When the Blue Jays acquired Grichuk in January 2018, it looked like he had 30-plus home run potential in his bat. With his batted ball statistics and switching to a hitter-friendly ballpark, it seemed like he could easily reach that 30 home run plateau.

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Even though he’ll likely reach that milestone this season, is it really that special when his OBP is the third-worst in MLB this year? (Sandwiched in between Odor and Kevin Pillar).

With the 2019 season coming to a close, there’s been a referendum of sorts regarding year one of Grichuk’s five-year/$52 million contract. He’s making $7 million this season, $13 million next season and $10.33 million annually from 2021 to 2023.

In the grand scheme of MLB contracts, it’s not a lot of money. It’s fair market value for an outfielder the calibre of Grichuk, if not a slight overvaluation. There are worse ways to spend $10 million annually (like paying down Kendrys Morales’ salary).

And since the Blue Jays have so little money on the books beyond the 2019 season, they can more than afford to carry Grichuk’s salary over the next four seasons. As one of only two Blue Jays with guaranteed money on the books next season, Grichuk won’t break the bank.

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Let’s dig into the optics of the contract extension. Clearly, it was a deal the Blue Jays preferred to square away early. Prior to this extension, Grichuk was under team control through the 2020 season, so not only did the Blue Jays lock in some cost certainty, they also firmed up at least one of their outfield spots for the foreseeable future.

When a player like Grichuk is willing to stick around for five more years in Toronto, it’s hard to argue that fact, even if it results in a slight overpay to retain that player.

Grichuk was among a handful of players with two seasons of team control at the time. Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez were two others, and we all know how that ended. In retrospect, the moment the Jays extended Grichuk and not Stroman, that should have been an indicator the organization had no intention of re-upping Stroman.

Before Grichuk signed on the dotted line, there were questions whether he factored into the next wave of contention for the Blue Jays. The team bet on “their guy” with a five-year contract extension, which answered any queries whether Grichuk would be a staple in Toronto beyond the 2020 season.

As a team whose outfield has been in flux since Opening Day, there might be some value to the organization knowing at least Grichuk will occupy one starting spot on the outfield depth chart. In retrospect, the Blue Jays may have jumped the gun on this extension. It’s difficult to see Grichuk getting anywhere near that kind of money on the open market.

There’s no doubt the Blue Jays overpaid in total dollars and term, but again, perhaps cost certainty and locking in that roster spot was worth it to the front office.

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Grichuk is also the type of player this front office really likes. This year, his numbers have taken a dip, but last year, Grichuk ranked 9th overall in baseball in barrels per plate appearance. He also plays solid defense (either in centre field or right field), and that versatility and plus defense is worth something, too.

When a player of Grichuk’s ilk is the highest position player on the roster, there’s an expectation which comes with a big contract. He’s being paid like one of the top producers on the team, but in reality, he’s the number six or seven hitter on a contending Blue Jays team.

Does the sub .300 OBP, 30-plus home runs and plus defense equal up to $10 million a year? Not at this very moment, but if Grichuk puts together his second-half numbers from the 2018 season over the course of a full season, he’s a bargain at that contract.

And that’s the interesting thing with Grichuk; because he puts so few balls in play, it’s feast or famine at the plate. One year, he could be a 25 home run hitter. The next, he could be a 40 home run hitter. Given how often he’s swinging at pitches, in theory, he could run into 10 more home runs next year, especially with the juiced baseballs in MLB.

The OBP thing won’t change. Yes, he’s drawn a career high with 34 walks this season, but he’s never posted an OBP higher than .329 in his six-year career. It’s difficult to envision a switch flicking and Grichuk suddenly develop Jose Bautista-esque plate recognition.

This is the guy Grichuk is; someone with a lot of swing and miss, some intriguing 30-plus home run power and someone who plays plus defense.

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