Blue Jays Seeking More Outfield Help, and Making Sense Of Kelly Johnson.

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)

Well this is interesting. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors tweeted out a link which references a Buster Olney report, saying that the Jays are seeking more outfield help. 

This may be indication that the Jays are uncomfortable with the aspect of a Carrera, Upton Jr., Pearce, Pompey flip-flop-a-do in left field. Which... I mean, can you blame them?

The reason I find this to be interesting is because of what is left to attain from free agency, in terms of outfield help (Hint: there's not much). From what has been reported, the Jays were moving forward with the idea of a Upton Jr,/Carrera platoon in left-field, Although Steve Pearce was discussed as a possibility, he is still in the process of recovering from shoulder surgery. Thus, it's more likely we'll see him split time with Smoak at first base in order to avoid any more stress on his shoulder via long throws from the outfield. Dalton Pompey has been reportedly shut down with a concussion that he suffered during the World Baseball Classic, leaving his chances of starting the year with the Jays in serious doubt. 

Muddying the waters a bit more, yesterday both Carrera and Upton Jr. were late scratches prior to the Jays Spring Training outing against the Rays. Mike Wilner of Sportsnet tweeted out the following reasons for both players missing action - 

With this in mind, perhaps these "injuries" are a bit more serious than the Jays are letting on, specifically Upton Jr.'s, as he is not in today's lineup against the Pirates at all (Carrera, however, is leading off). I don't want play Inspector Ballfield here, but maybe this is a thing?

Knowing full well that the only information that I have to work with is what I've presented, I'm hard-pressed to jump to the conclusion regarding Upton Jr.'s injury. Doing so is irresponsible and speculative, both of which I'm trying to avoid being. We don't know how severe it is. It could just be a matter of rest. I'm willing to bet that it is. Yet, even if we were to disregard any sort of injury concerns for both players, you could understand why the Jays would be seeking this sort of help. Besides maybe first base, left field is the only position in which the Jays have a real big hole to fill. The Jays should be looking to upgrade the left field spot. 

Now, the only free agent outfielder that the Jays have been reported to be interested in is Angel Pagan. However, along with Pagan seeking a Major League contract, the Orioles reportedly backed out on a deal with the free agent due to concerns with his physical earlier this month. Currently, the only team that is reported to have any interest in Pagan is Atlanta; albeit nothing serious. Considering the fact that Pagan is currently playing for team Puerto Rico in the WBC and ostensibly seems fine, what Baltimore saw in his physical must have been concerning enough for them to take a pass.. and this is freaking Baltimore here! Thus, you'd have to believe that whatever showed up on Baltimore's radar would more than likely show up on Toronto's, should they give him a chance. I mean, if Baltimore passed on him, maybe it's best if we pass on him as an option, too.

Besides Pagan, there's not much out there in terms of free agent outfielders to mitigate the Upton Jr./Carrera platoon the Jays currently have. However, yesterday, Ken Rosenthal tweeted the following which... try not to roll your eyes and get too dizzy - 

I mean, what is it with the aspect of resigning former Blue Jays lately? First Lawrie, now Johnson!? Well....

Like Pagan, Johnson is seeking a Major League deal, but the "checked in" part of the report by Rosenthal is so vague, it's better to not unpack it. I understand acquiring another left-handed bat would do the Jays some good, but considering that Johnson is primarily an infielder, I didn't see how this would work, at first. Really looking into it, though, his numbers from last season aren't really as bad as you would think they are. So let's assume, for the sake of discussion (and content) the  Jays cave and offer Johnson a Major League deal.

Let's break it down.

Last year with the Braves and Mets, Johnson had a line of .247/.306/.391, with an OPS of .698, 75 hits, 10 dingers, 34 RBI's, a strikeout rate of 19.5%, a walk rate of 7.5%, and a wRC+ of 87. His splits are kinda fairly sort of equal, too. They are as follow:

  • Against RHP: .247/.313/.382, with an OPS of .695, with a BB% of 8.6%, and a K% of 19.8%.
  • Against LHP: .245/.273/.434 with an OPS of .707, with a BB% of 1.8%, and a K% of 18.2%.

Comparing this to both Upton Jr. and Carrera's 2016 numbers, respectively, you can sort of see why the Jays would have "checked in." To boot, Upton Jr.'s lines are as follow:

  • Against RHP: .226/.274/.360, with an OPS of .634, with a BB% of 6%, and a K% of 28.8%.
  • Against LHP: .275/.341/.533 with an OPS of .874, with a BB% of 9.6%, and a K% of 28.7%.

Carrera's were as follow:

  • Against RHP: .218/.307/.320, with an OPS of .627, with a BB% 9.5%, and a K% of 22.8%. 
  • Against LHP: .329/.372/.452, with an OPS of .824, with a BB% of 6.4%, and a K% of 21.8%.

I suppose you can make the argument that Johnson would be useful for the Jays against righties, as his numbers appear to be a bit better. But the two issues we need to keep in mind when we consider Johnson are A) whether or not he is a suitable left-field option and B) is he worth offering a Major League deal to, in terms of what he may cost? There is some recent evidence when it comes to his capability of playing left field, as he appeared at the position within 15 games last season (6 for the Braves, 9 for the Mets), starting at the position in 8 of those games. During that time, Johnson had 17 PO's and 0 errors over 79 innings. Sure the sample is quite small, but... I mean... I guess he could work?

The addition of Johnson, I imagine, wouldn't be primarily for the left-field position, as I have been illustrating here. However, adding Johnson, for any purpose, would probably make Goins the odd man out and subsequently be put on waivers (as he's out of options). Yet, as an experienced infielder, Johnson may be able to fill the void, as well as act as a utility option for left-field. Thus, besides the left-field scenario previously outlined, Johnson starts to make a bit more sense if the Jays need help within the infield in the event that one of these situations occur:

  • Travis is able to begin the season with the Jays and Goins gets scooped up in waivers.
  • Travis is unable to begin the season, leaving the Jays to go with Johnson over Goins as a backup; again leading to Goins getting scooped up in waivers (or maybe he sneaks through. Regardless...).
  • Tulowitzki spends time on the DL.
  • Josh Donaldson suffers a set-back with his calf (EASY NOW!), or needs a day at DH.
  • Travis gets hurt some other way, which... ya know, we've been there!

Considering these possibilities (some of them probabilities), and considering the whole left-field thing... you certainly could do worse! 

Again, I know I'm forcing the marriage between the two rumors of "looking for outfield help" and "being interested in Kelly Johnson." They may be completely unrelated and, let's be honest, they probably are. But if you squint hard enough, you may be able to make some sense out of it. I know people were trying to make an Angel Pagan fit, but if there are issues in terms of his physical, along with the (reported) fact that he's seeking a Major League deal, while also considering that he'd probably cost more than Johnson would, it may be better to pass. I mean, it's never a bad thing to have a utility man on your team, right? Remember all those arguments for Brett Lawrie you were trying to come up wth? Yeah, starting to make more sense that you just want Lawrie because he's Lawrie, huh?

Of course, all of this Kelly Johnson talk is assuming that the Jays are 100% out on Pagan, which I'm not entirely convinced of. Pagan would be a much better outfield option to supplement the Upton Jr./Carrera platoon than Johnson would. But if there is truly a problem with Pagan in terms of his physical that would show up on the Jays radar, much like it did Baltimore's, Johnson could be an option, right? Right?

So yeah... Kelly Johnson.

Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter @SouthOfThe6ix