TORONTO — On the rare occasion when Bo Bichette or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. aren’t dominating the discussion around the Blue Jays, the topic of who will join them on future iterations of the team does.
There are no shortage of valid questions. Is Cavan Biggio someone you can pencil in at second base indefinitely? Can Teoscar Hernandez be trusted? Will Derek Fisher reward the faith of the Blue Jays front office? What is Brandon Drury?
On Tuesday, the most prominent question in that vein was whether Rowdy Tellez had turned the corner after a trip to Buffalo. That’s not even touching the pitching side where Mark Shapiro recently — and somewhat infamously — presented a list of 17 pitchers he hoped to extract three starters from that consisted of Nate Pearson and a legion of question marks.
As thrilling as speculation on unproven players ranging from young to young-ish is, it’s also important to evaluate players who will be on this club in the years to come. Due to the Blue Jays’ fledgling roster and aversion to long-term payroll responsibilities, that’s an awfully short list. In fact, it’s a list of two: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk.
Other than Troy Tulowitzki’s zombie money, those are only two contracts definitively on the books going forward — both of them through 2023. Although he’s injured now, Gurriel Jr. has shown himself likely to be a bargain on his deal, by annihilating the baseball and accumulating outfield assists at an impressive clip. Grichuk, on the other hand, has left more room for skepticism.
The 28-year-old is owed $44 million over the next four seasons and this year he’s been a below-average contributor, putting up a .240/.294/.444 line with 0.8 WAR. In his first campaign with the Blue Jays, Grichuk got off to a brutal start, but provided the Statcast darling thump he’d shown in St. Louis.
That’s the guy the Blue Jays wanted to lock up with a fresh extension. The guy they’ve gotten this year has underwhelmed.
“This game’s kind of a frustrating game in the aspect of one day you have it one day you don’t,” he said. “For no reason at all, you lose it.”
It has to be disconcerting for the Blue Jays to watch the one guy they chose to really invest in fall short of expectations immediately. Grichuk hasn’t been an unmitigated disaster, but his 2019 has not been what the club would hope for. Or what he hoped for, for that matter.
“I’ve been so inconsistent with pre-pitch and getting to the hitting spot,” he said. “Standing up, standing down, widening up, shortening up. I’ve just been trying to search for it.”
On Tuesday, however, he demonstrated the kind of form that the Blue Jays are paying for, going 2-for-4 in a 3-0 win over the Rangers with a 414-foot bomb to centre fielder off breakout ace Lance Lynn.
He even added a loud 101.7 mph out that gave left fielder Willie Calhoun something to stress over.
The performance itself wasn’t a dazzling breakout. Grichuk had 21 home runs and 28 multi-hit outings coming into game, after all. However, the impressive night was part of a recent positive trend for the outfielder. The home run was his fourth in his last seven games and his output has steadily climbed of late.
“Probably about two-and-a-half weeks ago roughly, I changed the way I hold the bat and pre-pitch movements and some of my load/timing mechanisms,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been able to be consistent with those.”
“He’s locked in right now, I’d say in baseball terms,” manager Charlie Montoyo added. “He feels good, he’s not chasing. He’s one of those guys that when he gets hot, he gets hot. He’s hot right now. He’s having great at-bats.”
Coming into Tuesday’s action, Grichuk was hitting .252/.297/.495 in the second half, compared to .233/.291/.417 in the first — with a gaudy .318/.348/.682 August line. The performance this month in particular is supported by a pretty major exit velocity spike.
This is all small sample size stuff, but the Blue Jays are definitely liking the version of Grichuk they’re seeing right now. Although he’s no franchise cornerstone, he’s an important cog in whatever success this team has in the coming years. In an outfield brimming with uncertainty, he can be a stable presence. That’s what his contract says he’s supposed to be. Grichuk doesn’t have to be a star, but if he’s the hitter he’s been for most of 2019, the Blue Jays front office will have made a major mistake.
Because of his contract, we don’t have to wonder if the 28-year-old is part of the Blue Jays future. What remains to be seen is if he’s part of the solution or part of the problem.
He’s been looking like the former lately, even if he’s been the latter for most of the season.
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