Moving Bo Bichette to centre field may be so crazy, that it actually works
Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
2 months ago
Look, the likelihood of this happening is essentially zero, but I think it’s an interesting discussion that has some merit.
In the early part of the 2022 season, I wrote about how the Blue Jays should move shortstop Bo Bichette to second base, as his defense at short was well below average. I felt comfortable with that opinion, as it would have just been a swap with everyday second baseman Santiago Espinal.
This article is a little bit different. Unlike the previous article and more like an onion, this article will have more layers as we’re in the off-season. Let’s get into the pros and cons of why this idea may be so damn crazy that it’ll work.
Starting the caveat:
We’ll get into why it looks good on paper in the next few sections, but this section will feature the biggest obstacle in why this likely won’t happen.
Imagine you’re Bo Bichette, and you’ve been touted as the long-term shortstop of the Toronto Blue Jays. Four years into your young career, the Jays are looking to move you off the position and into the outfield (in this case, centre field.)
I don’t imagine he’d be very happy with the situation, and I don’t even know if the Jays would consider this as they’ve spent four years developing Bichette at short. While it may make sense on paper, the human element, as well as the team’s interests are likely in a different direction. That doesn’t mean it isn’t an interesting conversation piece.
Let’s talk about his defense:
The 24-year-old’s 2022 was his worst defensive season thus far in regards to Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating, and Outs Above Average.
His -16 DRS ranked as the worst amongst qualified shortstops, with the next lowest being Brandon Crawford, who only had a -6. In fact, his -16 DRS was the second lowest by all qualified fielders, with only Alec Bohm’s -17 OAA being ranked lower.
In terms of OAA for shortstop, Bichette had a -7, which ranked second worst among qualified shortstops. While his numbers were bad, it wasn’t as bad as Seattle’s J.P Crawford who had a -11 OAA in 1254 innings. Interesting, Carlos Correa had a -3 OAA, but we’ll get around to him later.
Ultimate Zone Rating or UZR is not a statistic I’m incredibly high on. However, it’s worth noting that his -15.4 UZR is also the worst by a qualified shortstop, with Javier Baez ranking second with a -10.5 UZR.
UZR is composed of a few factors, but we’ll focus on range (as it’s pertinent to the discussion) and errors. Like Baez, Bichette struggled with errors as he committed 23 total errors, which was actually one less than in 2021.
I wouldn’t look too much into it, as 24-year-olds tend to be less refined defensively. The biggest issue for Bichette appears to be his internal clock, meaning he just rushes throws when he doesn’t need to. This is something that improves with experience.
The second part, the range, is more of an issue. Range is needed to play centre field, so the fact he has a -5.1 range (the second worst is -2.5) is quite concerning. It would also mean he’s more likely to move into a corner outfield position than a centre field position.
The positive news is that the range aspect isn’t something that has impacted him in his career, as that particular stat had a 2.0 in 2019, 1.4 in 2020, and a -0.4 in 2021. It’s also of note that Bichette was in the 52nd percentile of sprint speed in 2022, which was a drop from being in the 74th percentile last season.
I’m not sure if that has anything to do with the drop in the range stat, but I thought it was of note. I think Bo could become an average fielder with experience, and I don’t think they’d move him off short for this reason alone.
There’s precedence for moving an infielder to the outfield:
It’s not a stretch to say that Fernando Tatis Jr. is a better player than Bo Bichette. He has a career 153 wRC+ and has slashed .292/.369/.596 with 81 homers in his career. While he’s never had a bad of a season as Bichette did in 2022, The Padres experimented with Tatis playing in the outfield in 2021.
Between 2016-2020, Tatis had never fielded in the outfield in a professional game, but the Padres allowed him to play 207.1 innings there in 2021, where he was serviceable. Had he been healthy and not been suspended for the season, it’s likely he’d of been playing there even more in 2022.
Heck, you can even look at the Blue Jays for an example. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was struggling with throws, much like how Bo Bichette is now, and the Jays ended up moving him to left field. While he’s not a great defender by any means, his arm is plus for the position, and he’s improved with experience.
It’s not impossible that the Jays could do something similar with Bo Bichette, although it’s a lot less likely.
The outfield market isn’t looking too hot:
I think there are good options in the outfield market, but none would replace the loss of Teoscar Hernández. An idea floating around is to acquire a centre fielder, which would allow George Springer to move to right field, thus helping him stay healthy. So here’s the four centre fielders that I’ve seen the Jays linked too.
There’s a case for Brandon Nimmo who can really hit from the left side and has above-average defense. However, I don’t know if the Jays want to commit six years and upwards of $120 million on another 29-year-old centre fielder with injury issues. Next to Aaron Judge, he’s really the only other outfielder that’ll get a long-term deal over $100 m overall.
The only other name I’m mildly interested in is St.Louis’ Lars Nootbaar, who had a 125 wRC+ in 347 plate appearances in 2022. He’s certainly a player that could really break out in 2023, but due to his term and numbers, it may cost the Jays Alejandro Kirk, which is a no from me. Moreover, he only has 115 innings under his belt in centre field throughout his career. Nootbaar could probably play centre field, but the cost makes me wonder if he’s worth it.
Other names include Daulton Varsho, who is spectacular defensively in centre field, but doesn’t come close to replacing Hernández’s value with the bat. Plus that’d be a trade, meaning the Jays will lose some value for a guy that they could sign in free agency.
There are also rumours swirling around about Cody Bellinger, who you’re hoping he finds his 2019 form, but shoulder injuries will hinder his chance of getting there. He’s still a plus defender in centre field, but definitely not the guy you’d want to replace Hernández.
Of course, there are more corner outfielders in free agency, such as Andrew Benintendi, Michael Brantley, Michael Conforto, Joey Gallo and a litany of other names. While there are tons of names available, it doesn’t compare to the shortstop market.
The shortstop market is stacked:
Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogarets, and Dansby Swanson. All four of those guys I’d take over Brandon Nimmo and day of the week, and all four of those guys I’d take playing shortstop over Bo Bichette as they had similar offensive numbers and better defense.
The only downside to this is that all four of those guys bat right-handed, meaning that the lack of left-handed batters is still an issue. However, if they sign say Dansby Swanson, and then sign Michael Conforto to platoon with Gurriel Jr. in left field, I think that helps in some capacity.
As the tweet above mentions, this will be the last time in a while that there are this many great shortstops available. If the Jays have a change of plans a few years down the road about Bichette not playing shortstop, this off-season may be the last time where they can replace his offensive value at the plate.
What to make of it:
While on paper, moving Bichette to the outfield and signing one of the big four shortstops works on paper, it seems highly improbable for it to happen. The Jays have already committed four years to his development at the position, and it’s not unreasonable to believe he’ll improve as he gains experience. Not just that, but one would assume he’d be pretty pissed if he was moved off short.
This may also fill the outfield hole, but it doesn’t address their biggest offensive need for a left-handed batter, which seems easiest to fill via signing Brandon Nimmo or trading for a Lars Nootbaar (NOT DAULTON VARSHO!)
If you ask me, I think it’s likely that the Jays sign a guy like Kevin Keimer as the fourth outfielder, while signing Michael Conforto, Andrew Benintendi, or Joey Gallo to play right field for the departing Hernández.
The next likely possibility is the Jays get Nimmo, which would instantly improve their team. This is definitely the best option.
The least likely is obviously Bichette moving to the outfield, but it’s an interesting discussion that could open up a lot more options for the off-season.
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