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2020 Rule 5 Overview: breaking down the outfield mix

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday we took a look at the Rule 5 eligible players in the Blue Jays organization in advance of Friday’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: Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

Complementary player profiles: Jonathan Davis

Out of options/bubble: Derek Fisher

Rule 5 eligibles: Josh Palacios, Chavez Young

What a difference a year makes. Whereas the last couple years there’s been muddled logjam with the Blue Jays constantly taking flyers and adding to the mix, a combination of shake-outs and steps forward has left things much more streamlined if not completely settled.

Let’s start with some numbers. In the recent past, the Jays have had six to seven outfielders on the 40-man both after setting the 40-man for Rule 5 purposes (maxing out at eight two years ago), and by Opening Day of the following season. That’s also roughly in proportion to outfielders being a third of the lineup and positions players half of the roster, so while not a hard ceiling or floor it’s a reasonable baseline as a working target.

One scenario for this offseason would include a major addition in the outfield, however in that case one would think one of the three established incumbents would in turn be moved. It would be possible to rotate four starters through the outfield and a significant portion of the DH at-bats to keep them fresh, but with the potential Rowdy Tellez flashed in 2020 and the uncertainty (at best) around Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s positional outlook this doesn’t strike me as the best idea of use of resources.

Instead, it seems to me the more interesting if less consequential question is what happens with Fisher this winter. If they’re determined to give him another shot, then given he’s out of options, then he’s the de facto fourth outfielder. That pushes Jonathan Davis to AAA, and quite clearly leaves a 40-man spot to either protect a prospect who doesn’t figure into 2021 or perhaps be opportunistic with something like a waiver claim of a bubble player to add depth.

Instead if the front office has seen enough and is ready to cut bait, then they likely go out and get an experienced fourth outfield/second division regular type (like a Jake Marisnick). This acquisition would replace Fisher, further cementing the mix and opening the lane even more to carry and protect a prospect type or take a flyer.

But a plausible variant of that scenario would be making that kind of upgrade, but without moving on from Fisher entirely. Here they’d still carry Fisher on the 40-man over the winter, and see if he forces their hand in the spring if there’s an opportunity or try to sneak him through waivers in the run-up to the season. That would leave less flexibility, although it would still only be six outfielders so not none either.

Is Jonathan Davis’s spot safe? In the offseason lookahead I listed him on the bubble more out of an abundance of conservatism than anything else. The fact that he’s stuck around the last couple years while numerous others have moved (most particularly Anthony Alford), is perhaps the best defensive option in centre at this point, and impressed in limited opportunity in 2020 suggests he’s probably part of the 2021 picture.

Josh Palacios has performed competently in the upper minors, and is certainly on the radar as he was included in both the 60-man player pool and the 40-man postseason pool. That could foreshadow be added to the 40-man, but unless he’s internally passed Davis and effectively replaces him I don’t see that as very likely (and the problem. A secondary possibility would be if Davis has impressed to the point that the Jays are confident running with him as the fourth outfielder, with Palacios slotting in behind him as depth.

In the end, even with room to maneuver in the outfield mix, I don’t see the Jays adding any outfielders from within the organization. The possible exception being if Chavez Young has had a developmental breakthrough and that other teams are aware of. A more plausible mechanism of leveraging this flexibility might be if another team has a crunch and the Jays can swing a deal to buy low, as happened with Trent Thornton two years ago.