What should the Blue Jays do in the outfield?

Yes, the outfield.

While most of the attention – and rightly so – has been put on the pitching staff for the Toronto Blue Jays, an interesting situation is emerging in the furthest position from the mound. The team’s outfield, both for 2015 and beyond, is going to be an interesting issue to follow in the next four weeks.

Four months ago I figured they were set. Jose Bautista manning right, Michael Saunders in left, and rookie Dalton Pompey in centerfield. Kevin Pillar, meanwhile, was the perfect fourth infielder. He was the next incarnation of Reed Johnson, able to play all three outfield positions, hit and run enough to be useful.

As a rookie, Pompey didn’t really have to do anything special. Hit his weight, play decent defence, and learn the craft of being a big leaguer on the fly.

About that.

Halfway into the season the Jays outfield has never been what it was supposed to. The number of times Pompey has been flanked by both Saunders and Bautista in the Jays outfield so far? Zero.

The thing is, where one idea fails, another succeeds. That guy who was supposed to be the perfect fourth outfielder? Turns out he’s a pretty solid starter. Kevin Pillar has been an average hitter while also being very good both on defence and on the base paths. By doing that he’s been very valuable, putting up a 2.1 fWAR thus far.

While that is a very nice revelation for the Toronto front office, the rest of the outfield has been…uh…a bit of a mess. After dealing with a shoulder injury he really doesn’t seem to have completely gotten over, Bautista has returned to play right field. So, at least for the time being, that’s figured out.

But left field is another situation. Ezequiel Carrera, Danny Valencia, and Chris Colabello have combined to do most of the heavy lifting. Simply put, Colabello’s had a great stretch, but is neither an outfielder nor as good a hitter as he’s shown, Carrera is a stop gap, and Valencia is a lefty mashing infielder.

While pitching does, and should, remain the priority, the outfield remains an issue. The latest I’ve seen on Saunders is that he’s nearing a rehab assignment, and Dalton Pompey has turned it around since being sent to AA New Hampshire.

Should either Saunders or Pompey make their way back to the big leagues and finds success, than this issue goes away really quickly. However, the non-waiver trade deadline is nearing. Saunders won’t be back for another couple weeks, and even if you call Pompey up tomorrow you won’t know what you have by July 31.

So that means taking some calculated risks.

The one possibility is the Jays use Pompey as trade bait. It makes sense, in a…uh…sense. With Pillar showing he’s at least a capable centerfielder, Alex Anthopoulos could feel comfortable using Pompey as the centrepiece of a deal. By solving the pitching situation it becomes much easier to make do with whatever you have in left field. Trading the young Canadian to shore up the pitching, and then having Saunders come back healthy would be just bloody peachy, putting the team in a great position in 2015.

But any decision can’t be made with just this year in mind, no matter how much AA’s job may or may not be on the line (note: I sure hope it’s not). By trading Pompey you’re essentially giving Pillar the job for the foreseeable future. At best, this is what he is, a solid starter. At worst, this is a blip and he goes back to the guy who can’t hit and whose defence isn’t enough to make up for it.

Pompey, while he could still be a flop, also still has the potential to be a star. But he’s nearing the point where he has to start making inroads at the major league level.

What could complicate things, in a good way, is the emergence of Anthony Alford. Having yet to reach 21 years old, the outfielder who finally committed to baseball full time after flirting with his football aspirations, has excelled at two levels in the minors this year. Between Dunedin and Lansing this year he’s hit to a .410 OBP and .842 OPS.

Has he shown enough for the Jays brass to be willing to deal from their outfield depth? Has he shown enough to become an attractive trade piece himself?

The Jays could sure use an upgrade in the pitching staff, either in the bullpen or the rotation. But there aren’t many pieces that both have value and make sense to move. Sure there’s some pitching depth you could move for veteran players, Daniel Norris and Jeff Hoffman come to mind. But Norris is a nice depth piece who still has tons of upside, and has Hoffman shown enough for either the Jays or an acquiring team to feel comfortable with since his return from Tommy John surgery?

Pompey may be the most movable asset, and yet that all depends on what the front office thinks of both Kevin Pillar and Anthony Alford.


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