Remember when I was writing about how unpredictable bullpens are? Apparently the same can be said for outfielders.
Last year at this time Jays fans were expecting one more year of Colby Rasmus patrolling centre field for the team before he cashed in with some major deal in free agency. Meanwhile, fans were hoping the tumour found in left fielder Melky Cabrera’s back would be key in turning his tenure in Toronto around.
Well they got one more year of Colby, he’s rumoured to be going to the Rays or perhaps the Orioles, but wow. After a tremendous 2013 that had people thinking he’d finally figured it out and was unlocking all that potential everyone talked about, Rasmus laid a big, steamy one in 2014. The power remained, he swatted 18 home runs in limited duties with an isolated slugging percentage within .002 of his supposed breakout year. However, the BABIP gods reined down on him and his on base percentage dropped to a fugly .287. His defence, meanwhile, which was seen as something of a strength in 2013 – both by the eye test and advanced metrics – completely disappeared by both tests.
Melky, meanwhile, rebounded quite nicely. He hit 16 home runs in 139 games, slashing .301/.351/.458 to the tune of a 125 wRC+ and 2.6 fWAR. His defence, again both by the eye test and by the metrics, wasn’t strong. Some argue his defence was average, but I’d say it was passable at best.
Either way, his bat certainly plays.
But both are gone. Melky signed with the Chicago White Sox for what many considered a very reasonable three years, $42 million, while Colby is still weighing his options on what one-year deal he’ll sign.
Coming in to replace them will be Dalton Pompey (maple boners!) and Michael Saunders (double maple boners!). Saunders apparently butted heads with the Seattle management the past year or so and was traded to Toronto for pitcher JA Happ. He represents what could be a very sneaky good acquisition. He was twice named to the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list, peaking at #30 in 2009.
Since making the big leagues, he’s been quite good…when he’s played. But Saunders has had a tough time staying on the field. In 2014 he went on the DL twice, missing a couple weeks in June with knee inflammation, and then missed two months with a strained oblique. The year before he was on the DL for two weeks with a sprained shoulder.
Saunders has never played 140 games in a season, and was called out a bit by GM Jack Zduriencik at the end of 2014.
On the bright side, his DL stints have been for different ailments, suggesting he doesn’t have a chronic issue. On the down side his DL stings have been for different ailments, so he may just be injury prone, or as the Seattle GM alluded to, not up to the grind of a 162 game schedule.
Joining Saunders in the outfield will be rookie Dalton Pompey, who appears set to man centre field in 2015. Pompey is somewhat of a revelation, rocketing through the system in 2014. He spent time in five levels this past season, culminating with a cup of coffee in the big leagues.
Pompey has a fairly high ceiling, and though he burst onto the scenes in 2014, his 2013 season in A ball was actually strong as well. He has speed, he appears to be a strong defender and his bat has potential. The question is whether that bat is ready for prime time.
So, are Saunders and Pompey in 2015 better than Cabrera and Rasmus were in 2014?
Sadly, Pompey could probably be expected to provide similar value to Rasmus’ 2014 season. He’d do it by different means, certainly, but the combination of his defence and speed, provided he can get on base at any decent clip, could be valuable.
If you put any credence in the Steamer projections, Cabrera and Saunders are pegged for the exact same fWAR in 2015. And that’s in 20 fewer games for Saunders. If the latter can stay healthy and on the field there’s a decent to good chance he outproduces Melky by a fair bit.
However, it’s more than that. With Pompey exceedingly green and Saunders’ injury history the Jays would be wise to have some depth. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Should either two players scuffle or get hurt the Jays have Kevin Pillar and…well, that’s actually it. Pillar’s a decent depth piece, he can hit, run a bit and play solid defence at all three outfield positions. He can’t take a walk to save his life, but…
So with the team taking fairly big risks at centre and right field, the lack of depth is a big negative for the team. It could work out just peachy in 2015, and in the long run I think the team has set itself up quite well with those two. But in a go-for-it year, it’s dangerous.
Oh, and one more thing. Jose Bautista will man right field for the Jays. He’s awesome. He was awesome in 2014 and he’ll likely be awesome in 2015.
After losing Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus – who, despite a dismal 2014 still put up a league average 103 wRC+ and could have a strong 2015 – and replacing them with a rookie who started last year in A ball and an outfielder who’s spent time on the DL each of the past two years, it’s hard to say they’re improved.
But the outfield defence is likely better, and there’s plenty of potential, so it’s hard to say they’re a ton worse. With reasonable health and if the front office knows what it’s doing with regards to Pompey there could be a marked improvement.
In the end, I’ll call it a wash, with a good chance of things going either way by a significant margin.