Pittsburgh Pirates Salary Dump Candidate: Randal Grichuk
By Noah Wright
The Pittsburgh Pirates need to build up their farm system, and one way in doing so is taking on bad contracts. Randal Grichuk is one contract the Toronto Blue Jays are looking to shed, and they have a solid farm system.
A salary dump is when a team takes on a bad contract, but also receives a prospect from the team looking to shed the contract. This is a one way rebuilding teams can build up their farm system. It is also something that the Pittsburgh Pirates should look to do.
If you want a perfect example of how a salary dump works, look at the recent Zack Cozart trade. The San Francisco Giants took on all of the remaining money left on Cozart’s contract from the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim, while also receiving the Halos’ number one pick from the 2019 draft, Will Wilson.
By taking on $12.6 million, the Giants received a top 10 organizational prospect. This is something the Pittsburgh Pirates should explore as it can be an easy way to acquire young, high level talent. One team that is looking to shed a contract is the Toronto Blue Jays with outfielder Randal Grichuk.
Grichuk, who’s probably best known for the guy who was drafted before Mike Trout, was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals by the Blue Jays back in January 2018 for Conner Greene and Dominic Leone. In his first season up North, Grichuk did pretty well. In 462 plate appearances, Grichuk batted .245/.301/.502 including 25 home runs and 25 doubles.
Although he did have a low walk rate, Grichuk posted very good overall numbers. Those included a 117 OPS+, 115 wRC+ and .340 wOBA. He was also worth a 2.1 fWAR. Defensively, Grichuk wasn’t anything special, but he held his own. He racked up +1 DRS, a 0.5 UZR, 0 range runs, and a 0.7 UZR/150. He also had 7 outs above average which ranked 21st in the MLB. Grichuk barreled up the ball often, finishing 2018 with a 14.4% barrel percentage, and one of the highest in the MLB.
The Blue Jays rewarded Grichuk’s solid season with a five-year extension, but things haven’t gone so smoothly. Last year, Grichuk hit for a .232/.280/.457 line in 628 plate appearances. He finished with a career low 93 OPS+ and 90 wRC+. Grichuk also was awful defensively with -7 DRS, -0.6 UZR, -1 range runs, and a -0.6 UZR/150. However, he did maintain a strong OAA total of 6.
There is still a silver lining in Grichuk. The slugger racked up 65 extra base hits, which is the most he has had in a single season. He also got fairly unlucky. Although the right-handed batter’s career batting average on balls in play is .295, it fell to just .266 in 2019, showing he was unlucky in batted ball results. Grichuk also ended 2019 on a high note. Through his final 202 plate appearances of the season, Grichuk hit .238/.267/.554 with 14 home runs. He is also owed just $13 million in 2020, and $10.3 million each season from 2021 to 2023.
The Blue Jays will be in competition soon with a strong young core consisting of Vlad Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Nate Pearson, so freeing up money is something they’ll want to do. Not only getting most of, if not all of Grichuk’s contract off the books will help them bring in free agents, but it can also free up money to extend said young core. Plus the Jays do have some interesting prospects, more notably catchers.
Despite his lackluster bat, Danny Jansen is one of the best defensive catchers in the MLB. Although he struggled with the bat in 2019, his first full season, the Jays have to consider the following. He has a career slashline of .285/.396/.488 at the Triple-A level, including 55 walks to 56 strikeouts. He also didn’t do awful in his first taste of big league action in 2018. Plus with former Pirates’ first rounder, Reese McGuire, who has done well at the Major League level in a small sample size, and two other top prospect catchers, the Jays can part with one.
Of the two prospect catchers, the Pirates should definitely ask about 20-year-old Gabriel Moreno. Moreno reached Single-A last season, and batted very well through 341 plate appearances. He posted a .280/.337/.485 line including 12 long balls and 17 doubles. Although Moreno doesn’t walk often, he struck out just 11.7% of the time in 2019, and he owns a career strikeout rate of 9.8%.
According to FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline, Moreno is the team’s 7th best prospect. Moreno is best known for his defensive ability, with a 55 future grade for both his fielding and arm capabilities. Plus knowing he can handle the bat well, and rarely strikes out, paints a bright future for the young catcher. If things go according to plan, he would be ready for MLB action by the time the Pirates are ready to compete again in 2022 at the earliest.
The Jays could also throw in another depth piece if the Pirates were willing to take on the entire deal, such as a pitcher like Sean Reid-Foley, or outfielder Anthony Alford. Both aren’t going to be deal makers/breakers, but they would sweeten the pot for taking on such a contract. Reid-Foley has the potential to be a very good relief pitcher, and Alford was a former top 50 prospect.
The Pittsburgh Pirates could kill two birds with one stone here. Not only would they get a young and upcoming catcher in the deal, but they would also get a solid holdover in the outfield until Travis Swaggerty is ready. Plus with the inconsistent health and performance of Gregory Polanco, Grichuk could provide a stable outfielder for the Pirates.