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Rule 5 Overview: breaking down the outfield mix

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Last week we took a look at the Rule 5 eligible players in the Blue Jays organization in advance of next Tuesday’s deadline to add players to the 40-man. Beyond a few slam dunk additions, there are a number of candidates where the broader context is a significant factor. Today, we’ll take a look at the outfield in detail, starting by classifying the current 40-man:

Established MLB regulars: Randall Grichuk, Kevin Pillar

Unestablished but MLB level/ready: Teoscar Hernandez, Billy McKinney

Prospects: Anthony Alford

Complementary player profiles: Jonathan Davis, Dwight Smith Jr.

Other: Dalton Pompey

Rule 5 eligibles: Roemon Fields, Andrew Guillotte, Norberto Obeso, Forrest Wall

As I discussed in the overview post last week, the only real candidate to be added is Forrest Wall. Roemon Fields was someone mentioned last year in particular, but he didn’t consolidate the production gains he made in 2017 at Buffalo. Further, my view is that Wall is not a slam dunk addition on his own merits, so at least to some extent whether to add him or not depends on where he stacks up compared to other options in the organization.

I’ve looked over the last five years, and after the machinations leading into the 11/20 Rule 5 protection date, the Jays have had either 6 or 7 outfielders on the 40-man roster in every year. The only exception is in 2014, when they only had three (which soon became four with the trade for Michael Saunders, with no further offseason acquisitions).

That’s an important bit of context, in that it implies a rough ceiling on the number of spots devoted to outfielders on the 40-man roster. It’s also roughly in proportion to outfielders’ impact in that they’re three of the nine starting position players, and pitchers make up the other half of the roster. That’s not to say that an organization particularly deep in outfielders couldn’t go above that 6-7 range, but then the question is whether you’re just stockpiling marginal players who can’t all get a decent chance.

Granted, they’ve subsequently added outfielders later in the off-season in some of those years, but the opening day number has topped out in the same range (there were eight last year if one considers Steve Pearce an outfielder). But as listed above, there are already eight outfielders on the 40-man roster, so adding another outfielder almost certainly means subtracting at least one or two.

Starting at the top are the two established MLB regulars. Both Kevin Pillar and Randal Grichuk have two years of team control left, and have been worth roughly 10 WAR over their careers. Realistically, it makes sense for the Jays to shop both to contenders looking for quality, affordable help.

If one of those were moved, it leaves the other in CF, with Teoscar Hernandez and Billy McKinney the most likely options in the corners. If neither were moved, one of them (likely McKinney) either ends up in AAA or on the bench.

After an uneven 2018, Anthony Alford should be ticketed for a starting role in Buffalo; unless he had an absolutely stunning Spring Training it’s hard to see him factoring into the 25-man at least early in the season. Especially since 2019 will be his last option year, and he has less playing experience than most players in that situation. But it would be very surprising if he weren’t on the 40-man come the spring.

Perhaps the most interesting situation is that of Dalton Pompey, who is both out-of-options and seemingly out-of-favour after being the only non call-up in September. That would seem to indicate his days are numbered, but he did survive the initial roster culling earlier this month. Perhaps that’s simply forestalling the inevitable, and he’ll be gone next week or at some point thereafter.

But could he get one last shot? If they traded both Grichuk and Pillar, would they stick him in CF? Maybe it’s just wishful thinking as someone who’s been high on Pompey for seemingly forever, but he’s still not even 26 until next month. They could bring him into Spring Training, and if he was healthy and showed well, carry him as either the 4th outfielder or last guy off the bench, at least for the first couple weeks.

I say for the first couple weeks because of the Vlad factor. Come mid/late-April, the Jays will need both 25- and 40-man spots for him. Anticipating the inevitable, the Jays will want to manage those rosters so as to not be in the position of losing someone they like but there’s also been discussion of a potential grievance over service time. Having a couple of marginal out-of-options players break camp could help buttress that: “X had a great Spring and we had to carry him, but it didn’t work out and so we turned to Vlad”. Pompey would fit that mould, though many others who will become available on waivers this winter would as well.

That leaves Dwight Smith Jr. and Jonathan Davis, both of whom I consider on the 40-man bubble. Smith has posted consistent offensive minor league production, but short of what one wants to see from a corner outfielder. It’s just 100 PA, but he has hit at the big league level when he’s got the chance. He has an option year left, but if the Jays don’t see him as a priority for big league playing time in 2019, it might not make sense to carry him over the winter.

Davis profiles more similarly to Wall, with the defensive ability to play CF, with some offensive upside. I was a little surprised Davis got the call-up in September, and thus added to the 40-man. The question is whether they were going to protect him anyway, or were just rewarding a good year and getting a closer look with the intention of a later outright (as was the case with Justin Shafer and Jose Fernandez). If it’s the latter, then waiting until next week means a better chance of clearing waivers and retaining Davis with other teams filling up spots of their own.

Overall, of the eight outfielders currently on the 40-man, the most likely scenario to me barring bigger unforeseen moves is that two or three are gone in a few months: one of the established guys, and likely probably two of Smith/Davis/Pompey. That would leave room to protect Wall, and/or potentially add a player later in the offseason.