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2021 Rule 5 Overview: breaking down the outfield and catching mix

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Not much in the way of decisions here

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Last week 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 slam dunk additions (of which there are none this year), the broader roster context is a significant factor in protection decisions. Today, we’ll take a look at the outfield in detail, starting by classifying the current 40-man:

Established MLB regulars: George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

Veteran MLB players: Randal Grichuk

Complementary player profiles: Josh Palacios

Out of options/bubble: None

Rule 5 eligibles: Chavez Young

What a difference from the glut of a couple years ago when there were eight outfielders on the 40-man after the deadline, of which Grichuk was the lone established MLB regular with seven guys behind him ranging from question marks to depth to prospects.

Of those, Teoscar and Gurriel have stepped up and established themselves as starters. Billy McKinney and Anthony Alford reached the end of the line and were lost on waivers during the 2020 season, which went a long way to clarifying the picture a year ago but still left some questions entering 2021. Then Derek Fisher was traded in February and Jonathan Davis was supplanted by Jarrod Dyson in August.

That leaves a settled mix. Springer, Teoscar and Gurriel as the starters; Grichuk slotting as the established reserve to spell them in the field about once a week and fill-in in the event of injury. Palacios is ticketed for AAA until and unless he bangs the door down and an opportunity presents itself, but he’s likely not in danger of losing his roster spot. Otto Lopez also figures on the periphery as a utility type, but he’s still firmly in the prospect camp at this point.

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.

This set-up at the major league level would facilitate adding and carrying a somewhat marginal candidate or prospect who might be further away, but it coincides with a year when the Jays actually have a dearth outfielders in the organization who are Rule 5 eligible. I count only five primary outfielders, of which just three have played above low-A.

That could perhaps open the door to Chavez Young. He didn’t build on his 2018 breakout in Lansing the next year at Dunedin, but bounced back in 2021 with a solid .764 OPS for New Hampshire. I don’t think he’s particularly likely to be taken and even less so to stick, but the Jays were really high on him internally and wanted to be sure, they have some room to work with. But preserving the flexibility is likely and what I’d expect they opt to do, so I’d put the odds at no more than 25%.

Albertan Tanner Kirwer had a strong start with Vancouver, but faded/regressed once promoted to New Hampshire. He’d be the next closest (or least remote) candidate, and it’s a non-starter.

Given the room, this is probably an area where there’s some tinkering this winter. Barring some sort of big trade, the starting mix is filled out and nothwithstanding his terrible second half, Grichuk fills out the major league mix and provides depth/floor in the case of injury (and if not him, then some else is brought in fill the role). I would expect an addition of some type this winter, be it a depth/platoon bat similar to Corey Dickerson, or taking a flyer on a player squeezed off a roster elsewhere, either with options due to a 40-man crunch or without due to a 26-man crunch.

Catching mix

40-man players: Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, Reese McGuire, Gabriel Moreno

Rule 5 candidates: None

There’s little to be said here at the immediate situation, with no candidates to add. It’s still a position of relative surplus/strength, even with Riley Adams not part of the mix after essentially being given away. In hindsight, it would have better not to add him last year, he might have been nabbed but would then have had to stick rather than essentially being caught in a squeeze for 40-man spots as the fifth catcher and the only alternative to selling low being waivers (more favourable basis since he could be optioned).

The more interesting question is how the “glut” of players above eventually resolves, and 2021 could be pivotal in this regard. To wit:

  • Jansen hasn’t hit consistently, and 2021 could realistically be his last chance to do so woth the Jays
  • Is Alejandro Kirk really a catcher? If the bat is special enough, would we even want him to be?
  • Moreno is ticketed for AAA, but there’s talk or using him at third base (he was an infielder when signed)
  • Does McGuire get squeezed out, or stick as the back-up catcher as a relative fixed points as others rotate around him

Maybe one of them end up traded for help elsewhere, but it’s possible to accommodate all into next year and see how things play out, and that seems the likeliest and more logical to me.