Toronto Blue Jays depth: Mission accomplished (but still ...)
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
I've been meaning to write about the Blue Jays' depth and how they've actually accomplished what they set out to do in the offseason for a couple of weeks now.
Jeff Quattrociocchi at Jays from the Couch addressed a part of what I was going to say just today so I figured I'd elaborate on my original thoughts now that the cat is somewhat out of the bag.
Jeff's premise that the Jays' offseason additions have worked out well is a good one. There really haven't been any offseason disasters (aside from Jaime Garcia) that have brought the Blue Jays down. My thoughts are along a slightly different line.
The offseason moves were made to address the club's depth (or lack thereof). My argument is that Ross Atkins has been unquestionably successful in bringing in depth pieces that raised the club's floor.
Back in December, Atkins went on the record to let the fanbase know that he was looking for depth over the offseason. He saw a "solid" core of Josh Donaldson, Justin Smoak, Kevin Pillar, Devon Travis, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin that he could complement. The Jays brought in outfielders Randal Grichuk and Curtis Granderson along with infielders Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz. I would also include Teoscar Hernandez as a depth player who was acquired towards the end of last year who has also been very useful. While the players themselves have had varying degrees of success, the fact that the Blue Jays haven't had to resort to playing an outfield that includes Anthony Alford and Dwight Smith, Jr. or an infield that had Lourdes Gurriel (more on him later) and Richard Urena, nor have they been forced to accelerate Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s development or bring up a guy like Tim Lopes or Jason Leblebijian.
Acquiring players like Diaz, Solarte, Granderson and Grichuk have allowed the Blue Jays to absorb their injuries better. With Steve Pearce injured for much of the year (and now traded away), Teoscar Hernandez was allowed to shine as an everyday outfielder who's been able to contribute 1.0 fWAR so far (tied for second best on the team).
Solarte has contributed 0.4 fWAR (not a whole lot but it's better than negative WAR) and Randal Grichuk, despite a very slow start and losing time due to injury, has contributed 0.6 fWAR, mostly due to his defence. Aledmys Diaz is also at 0.6 fWAR due to his defence. Solarte and Diaz have been in a position to play so much because of the injuries to Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson. Granderson has 0.6 fWAR as well, giving all of the Blue Jays' depth players at the start of the year a positive impact, at least according to Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement.
Lourdes Gurriel, the Jays have decreed, is going to get a lot more playing time from here on in. While he's a fan favourite, he really hasn't shone in 103 plate appearances, posting a 1.9% walk rate, a 21.4% strikeout rate and a .248/.262/.396 slash line that calculates to a 76 wRC+ (meaning that he's creating runs at a rate that is 24% below league average).
The pitching depth the Blue Jays acquired in the offseason has also paid dividends. The Blue Jays signed Seung-hwan Oh, Tyler Clippard and John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) while also picking up Sam Gaviglio on waivers and Jake Petricka on a minor league deal.
With injuries to Danny Barnes and Ryan Tepera and the suspension of Roberto Osuna, the Blue Jays lost several of their late-game bullpen arms and Oh, Clippard and Axford have been there to pick up the slack. According to Fangraphs, Oh has the third most fWAR of any pitcher (including starters) on the team, coming in at 0.8 in just 43 2/3 innings. Oh has been outstanding the last while and is currently the best reliever on the team. Clipper and Gaviglio come in at 0.4 fWAR and John Axford has 0.1.
In the rotation, the only pitcher who has pitched to a negative fWAR is Jaime Garcia but with Biagini stumbling in the rotation early in the year and Gaviglio stepping up, the Blue Jays have been able to hold back Ryan Borucki until the end of June and likely will be able to give Sean Reid-Foley a full year in double-A and triple-A before possibly calling him up in September. The Jays also have Thomas Pannone on the 40-man roster and will be able to give him the rest of the season to get into a groove after he served his PED suspension before getting a look in the majors in August or September.
The Blue Jays' depth acquisitions this offseason have allowed their minor leaguers to develop and have helped keep a bad season from being a complete disaster despite injuries to almost everybody (Donaldson, Grichuk, Pearce, Travis, Tulowitzki, Donaldson, Tepera, Barnes, Garcia, Stroman, Sanchez, Estrada . . . have I missed anyone?).
Another bonus to the Jays having the depth they do is that they'll be in a position to sell off some of the parts. Now that some of the Jays' minor league talent is maturing, I'm less hesitant to have someone like Reid-Foley in the big league rotation should the Jays trade J.A. Happ. I'm not as worried about bringing Dwight Smith back up (although he's up today in place of Estrada who's back on the DL) to play regularly if the Blue Jays trade Granderson. There are some intriguing arms in Buffalo like Conor Fisk and Justin Shafer who have developed way beyond my expectations over the past couple of years. If the Jays trade Clippard or Oh, the youngsters are ready to take their places. Any trades made should help bolster the club's depth, at least on the prospect side, even further.
Would I rather the team sink to the bottom of the standing to compete for a 1/1 draft spot next year? Sure, but I don't want to do that at the expense of the development of the minor league players. Because of players like Solarte, Diaz, Granderson, Hernandez, Grichuk, Axford, Oh, Gaviglio, Clippard and Garcia, the Blue Jays have been able to keep the prospects on the development track and only bring them up when they think they're ready.
No one will say that Ryan Borucki wasn't ready to pitch in the major leagues when he was called up. It's the Blue Jays' depth this year that is helping promising fruit in the minor leagues ripen before taking the major league stage. I also would argue that it's because the Jays have had the depth at the major league level that they'll be able to more easily to turn their fortunes around in 2019, 2020 and beyond.
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