It’s no secret that this has been a trying offseason. After the Jays made their quick strike to sign both Lourdes Gurriel and Kendrys Morales, things ground to a halt. It then wasn’t until the Winter Meetings that the team signed Steve Pearce. While that move was a good one for the club, it was met with disappointment from the fanbase because it meant that Edwin Encarnacion was definitely not coming back, not matter how much his market fell (watching him sign with the team that knocked them out of the ALCS didn’t help). Even when it finally seemed like a ray of light had shone through the darkness with news of a Jose Bautista contract, it’s been accompanied by 36 hours of “when will this actually become official.”
With all of that, it can be hard to look ahead to the next move, but look ahead we must, because this team isn’t quite finished yet. The standard school of thought seems to be that the Jays will now shift their focus to depth and their relief corps, but that seems premature.
The Jays are lucky to have things more or less settled at eight of the nine offensive positions, but the outfield still needs help. Kevin Pillar is locked into centre field, and assuming Bautista eventually signs, he will be safely placed in right. The issue is with the apparent duo in left.
This all stems from the presence of Ezequiel Carrera. Ezequiel Carrera should not be on the big league roster.
This isn’t to disparage the man they call Zeke. He made great strides last year to become a viable major leaguer. He improved his defence dramatically, rating as an above-average outfielder for the first time in his career (by every available metric). There’s also no denying that he was a standout performer in the postseason, hitting .303/.343/.515 when much of the lineup was struggling to do much of anything.
That’s a very good fourth outfielder.
The problem, however, is that Carrera can’t hit against right-handed pitching.
This may seem counter intuitive considering that Carrera hits from the left side, but he hit just .218/.307/.320 against righties in 2016, following a line of .266/.318/.357 in 2015. Now, Upton hasn’t been any better, hitting .235/.281/.379 the last two years against same-side pitching.
The difference is that everything that Carrera does well, Melvin Upton Jr. can do better. Upton hits for more power. He’s a better overall hitter against left-handed pitching. He plays better defense in the corners. He’s a better base stealer. Simply put, Melvin Upton is a better player than Ezequiel Carrera.
If Carrera and Upton’s struggles were against southpaws, it wouldn’t be as big of an issue. Carrera could stick around as an occasional sub and pinch runner and his $1.1625M arbitration-avoiding contract would be a fine value. But approximately 3/4s of all plate appearances for a regular player come against right-handed pitchers. That’s way too many at-bats to give away.
This means that the Blue Jays need another outfielder. Sadly, this also means that Carrera has to go. The roster only holds so many spots and he adds nothing that Upton doesn’t already provide.
The Jays need someone who can hit against right-handed pitching, but they also need someone who can handle the position defensively. With Bautista’s limitations in right field, having a good defender in left would allow the team to shift things around to help mitigate the aging slugger’s lack of range. Steve Pearce can’t really be counted on to be this option, as his outfield range is limited and he has never shown the health to handle everyday work (since he’ll also get every AB vs LHP at first base…and vs RHP if he can stay healthy).
Obviously there aren’t a lot of players on the market who fit that bill. The Jays apparently kicked the tires on Andrew McCutchen, but that went nowhere. They’ve also been rumoured to have expressed interest in Curtis Granderson and Charlie Blackmon.
With the Bautista signing, however, the Jays likely can’t afford to be swimming in those expensive pools. Whether you believe the payroll budget is $160M or $165M, the Jays don’t have enough for a star. Thankfully, there are a couple of players that could fit the bill.
The first guy this team should be going after is Angel Pagan. The former Giants centre fielder has had his troubles staying healthy the last few years, but he wouldn’t be asked to shoulder a starter’s workload. He’s not young by any stretch (he’ll play the entire year at 35), and he can’t play centre anymore, but the metrics liked his work in left field. More importantly, he can more than handle his own against righties; He hit .282/.352/.414 against them last year, with a .286/.339/.412 line for his career.
Additionally, Pagan is a switch-hitter, which helps if Bautista or Pillar needs a day off against a left-hander, or if the opposing team is bringing in specialists late in the game. And because of his health issues, Pagan shouldn’t cost too much money.
If the Jays can’t get Pagan or anyone like him, they should still try to trade Carrera (he seems unlikely to clear waivers). That’s because they potentially have someone better sitting in AAA: Dalton Pompey.
Pompey hasn’t exactly shown much during his brief MLB career, with a line of just .218/.282/.416 against righties (though that’s still better than Carrera thanks to the slugging), but because he was rushed to the majors in 2014, we tend to forget that Pompey is only 24 years (and will be for the entire season). Throughout his minor league career he has shown himself to be a very patient hitter who can make solid contact, even showing a little pop every now and then. He has also turned into a weapon on the basepaths and he has the range of a plus centre fielder (with +5 DRS in just 21 games) in a corner. You’re getting a player with Ezequiel Carrera as his floor, with a ceiling of so much more.
Ideally Pompey would be playing every day in Buffalo (which is why going outside the organization is the better play), but it has reached a point in his development that it’s time to weigh the needs of the big league club against his future prospects. This club is built to win now and if he can help, Pompey needs to be with the major league team.
Whether it’s Pagan, Pompey, or someone we don’t even know is available, the simple truth is that the Jays cannot enter the season with the status quo in the outfield. This lineup is oh-so-close to being very, very good again, and to stop short would be a disservice.
Go get it done, Messrs. Atkins and Shapiro.
Lead Photo: © John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
11 comments on “Ezequiel Carrera and the Need for Another Outfielder”
Also should be said, if upton nets you some useful relief help (or whatever) Carerra is a perfectly fine 4th OF. You still need someone against RHPs but maybe freeing up a few million allows them to go with a stronger starting option and a weeker BU option.
Trading Upton is definitely an option that I didn’t mention. Though he would only free up $1-2M.
First, get your splits right. You listed Upton’s splits against righties for the past year, not the past two years as written.
2016: .226 .274 .360
2015: .261 .303 .433
Upton not being able to hit RH pitching is exaggerated by the media. Pompey, Pearce and Carrera are plenty of options for us.
My mistake. I’m not sure what happened there. 2015 was only 144 PA, unfortunately. And his overall line is still just .235/.281/.379 in that time period (I have updated the piece to reflect that, thanks). As such, there still should definitely be a platoon partner in place for him.
I agree with Mark – Josh is typically a pretty good analyst, but I think he is suffering from some confirmation bias with this analysis. I am by no means thrilled with the LF situation (Bautista should probably be moved there), but the proposed “upgrades” to a Zeke/Upton “platoon” are wanting. First, the entire premise about Zeke not being able to hit RHP is based upon a grand total of 726 career plate appearances, with only about 400 of those over the past 2 seasons. In comparison, Upton has over 4,000 MLB ab’s against RHP. Second, Pagan will mostly likely not come cheaply given his service time and could reasonably be projected to be a 1-2 WAR player in 2017, Also do we really want another roster spot taken up by an aging veteran who may have trouble staying healthy? Given what Saunders just signed for, why won’t Pagan command something similar or even more? Finally, panicky relegation of Pompey’s career is a good example of…well panic. His .702 OPS and .083 ISO at AAA last year belies the idea that he has some “pop” at this stage/level – in comparison Zeke put up .679 and .107 at MLB level. Is it a good idea to stunt whatever potential development Pompey may still have based upon the hope he’ll hit RHP better than Zeke in 2017…with basically very little in the way of evidence that the probabilities of that occurring are discernible or significant.
I’d rather see a trade for the much despised Jay Bruce – a Bruce/Upton platoon could be a 2-4 WAR “player”. Their splits last year (which are reasonably reflective of career level) would have produced about a 126 wRC+ and about an .870 OPS. To place that into perspective, Bautista is projected to OPS around .850 in 2017. Also, Upton provides valuable/serviceable depth behind Pillar in CF.
I’d rather see a better player too, but I’m dealing with the reality that they likely don’t have the budget. Though with Bruce you’re possibly dealing with an outfield with statues in both corners again. His defensive metrics are so weird. He was a plus defender when young, then bad, then good, then awful. It’s hard to get a proper handle on him.
As for Zeke, he has never shown any ability to hit RHP, regardless of the sample, and wasn’t a good hitter in the minors. He hasn’t exactly shown anything to earn the kind of belief that he’s going to flip that around.
Also, Pagan is older than Saunders, has been hurt recently, and is coming off a season where didn’t he put up anything close to Saunders’ overall numbers (his second half slide notwithstanding). I’d be legitimately shocked if he gets a contract in that range (and wouldn’t want Toronto paying that).
As for Pompey, he was hurt pretty much all of last year. In 2015 he had a .114 ISO while still being very much young for the league after a .152 ISO in 2014. I never called him a power hitter, but he has more power potential than Carrera. The base point, though, was that his floor is basically what you’re getting already from Zeke but with clear potential for more. I don’t really know that there’s an argument against that. That being said, I agree that a better hitter allowing Pompey to stay in AAA is clearly the best option.
Finally, the piece wasn’t about suggesting specific alternatives. It’s about the fact that they need one, whoever it is. I only listed some to show that there are options, and the type of player I believe would help.
I appreciate the feedback though. I love the discussion!
Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I agree some sort of move is preferable, but I also think with Bautista signed the incremental add on offense is not as important as a functional bullpen. They should be top 10 in projected scoring with Bautista back and the projected RA/G for the Jays is likely overstated due to Estrada/Happ/Sanchez being FIP busters to some degree (in their own ways). If RA/G can come in in the 4.3-4.4 area (up from 4.11 in 2016), then the projected 4.7+ with Bautista would translate into a high 80’s projection. I just don’t see how they get meaningfully higher unless they do something like the rumored McCutch trade and completely wipe out the farm system. Otherwise, they’ll need some luck and hope that enough of Betts wall scrapers turn into flyouts this year!
Oh, definitely. I wasn’t meaning to imply that the LF should take priority over the bullpen. That definitely needs to be addressed, and I’m pretty confident it will be (the rumoured interest in Tony Watson was very interesting).
And I really do think improvement will need to come via a combination of runs scored and prevented, which is why I wanted a defence-minded bat who can hit against RHP. You’re right that the effect could be minimal, but when you’re in the upper 80 win range as you suggest, every incremental gain is huge.
How did you miss the best remaining option? Moss! He’d have been worth 2 WAR if he was played in the OF all year, as he’s a horrendous defender at 1B. Kills RHP. Plays a competent defensive OF, slightly above average even. He would destroy RHP playing half his games here.
If he’s not an option, than the correct answer is DFA Smoak, Carrera is the backup, and Pompey starts. Carrera is still around as a fourth OF in case of injury, or in case Pompey struggles.
As an aside Pagan is a potential liability on defence, as DRS says he’s much worse than UZR says.
I didn’t include Moss because I think he’s probably going to cost too much. I actually do think he’d be a really nice fit.
I’d really like the Jays to sign Pagan, he’d be a great fit, swhich hitter, fine defense, even some speed, and experience with postseason experience… so he’s definitely be a great signing, and not to mention he would be cheap to get, so the Jays SHOULD get him.