Recently, the Blue Jays said they are looking into pitching and defensive minded players. These two Pirates players fit that bill.
Recently, the Toronto Blue Jays’ general manager Ross Atkins said that the team will focus on acquiring pieces to help their defense and pitching, specifically saying that “strike throwing” was one of the issues they planed to cover this off season, as per Scott Mitchell:
Last year, the Blue Jays suffered from atrocious defense. In 2020, they ranked next to last in defensive runs saved at -39, had -6 UZR and had -9 .2 range runs above average. When you look at their depth chart, it’s easy to see why they struggled so much on defense.
The Jays have a handful of young talented bats, but few young talented gloves. Their outfield consisted of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in left field, Randal Grichuk in center and Teoscar Hernandez in right. Among the three, Hernandez was the best defender with -1 DRS, .4 UZR, -2.4 range runs above average and +3.2 outfield arm runs above average. Essentially, their best outfielder defensively was overall average.
In the infield, Vlad Guerrero Jr. was moved across the diamond from third base to first base after struggling heavily defensively in his 2019 rookie campaign. However even at first base, the defensive issues persisted the young slugger as he had -4 DRS, -1.8 UZR and -.3 range runs above average. Up the middle, Cavan Biggio was a solid defender at second base with +2 DRS, 1.2 UZR and 1.2 range runs above average, as well as Bo Bichette (-1 DRS, 1.1 UZR, 1.4 range runs above average). Third base is another position the Jays could use some help in defensively as Travis Shaw had -2 DRS, 1.3 UZR and -.3 range runs above average.
Regardless, the poor defense hurt the Jays last year, as well as their starting pitching. Five starters for the Jays’ made at least five starts each. Out of the five, only one had both an ERA and FIP below 4, that being ace lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. As a collective group, the Jays’ starters only had a 4.55 ERA, 4.90 FIP, 1.44 WHIP, along with a 4.59 xFIP and 4.69 SIERA.
They’ll be in the market for both some defense and some pitching, and this is where the Pirates come into play. The Bucs have two players who could help solve the Blue Jays issues. The first being back-to-back Gold Glove finalist Adam Frazier.
Though a light hitter, Frazier’s defense is very good. In the past two years, Frazier has +3 DRS, 2.1 range runs above average and a 4.7 UZR at second base. His UZR/150, which puts his UZR across an entire single season, sat at 5.1. Outs above average loves Frazier. In 2019, he had +11 OAA, which ranked 19th in all of baseball. Last year, Frazier ranked 7th in OAA at +6. Frazier led second basemen in the stat in both years, and Royals’ infielder Nicky Lopez in 2020 was the only player to tie with Frazier.
Frazier’s up the middle defense is very good, but he can also provide defensive value as an outfielder. Frazier has experience at all three outfield positions, but mainly the corners. Still, he can play centerfield if they need him to. In total, he’s played 987 innings in the grass, putting up +9 DRS, 1.2 UZR, and +2.9 range runs above average.
Even though he is a light hitter like I stated earlier, he isn’t a complete detriment. Between 2016 and 2019, Frazier hit .279/.342/.420 with a .327 wOBA and 103 wRC+. In these four seasons, his lowest wRC+ was 97 and his highest was 113. Last year, Frazier struggled out of the gate, only hitting .198/.234/.330 with a 50 wRC+ in his first 111 plate appearances, but ended strong batting .271/.361/.402, culminating to a 112 wRC+. With a young infield core, Frazier would make a nice bench option for the Pirates. Not many players can play above average defense at 3+ positions, and consistently hit around league average.
Pitching wise, Joe Musgrove will definitely be on the Jays’ radar. At last year’s deadline, the Blue Jays and the Pirates came very close to sealing a deal that would have sent the Pirates’ right hander to Toronto. Their pitching situation since then hasn’t gotten much better as the pieces they did acquire at the deadline, that being Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray, are both free agents. Because of this, I also listed the Jays as a potential Joe Musgrove trade destination.
Musgrove had a career year last year, pitching to the tune of a 3.86 ERA, 3.42 FIP and 1.24 WHIP. Now granted, it was through just 39.2 innings of work, but he would help the Jays with their strike throwing issues. Musgrove struck out batters at a career high rate of 33.1% and 12.48 K/9. The Pirates’ ace also had a 3.19 xFIP, 3.50 SIERA and 3.64 DRA. Impressively, Musgrove only allowed batters a hard contact rate of 32.3%, and exit velocity of 85.1 MPH. His hard hit rate was in the top 79th percentile of pitchers, and his exit velo was in the top 97th percentile of pitchers as well. All of his percentile rankings per Baseball Savant were near the top 80th percentile or better, aside from barrel rate which still was in the top 70th percentile, fastball velocity which was in the bottom 33rd percentile, and curveball percentile which was still in the top 73rd percentile.
Musgrove also put up solid results in the two years prior to 2020. In his first 285.2 innings in a Pirates’ uniform, the right hader had a 4.28 ERA, but 3.72 FIP, 1.2 WHIP, 5.1% walk rate, 1.04 HR/9, and a DRA below 4 in both seasons (3.43 in 2018, 3.59 in 2019).
The Jays also have a solid farm system. Currently, Fangraphs gives them six, top 100 prospects, and ranks them as the 12th best farm system in baseball. Their young core is ready for competition, and that was made clear when they gave even the New York Yankees a run for their money, finishing just a game behind them. With the Pirates’ general manager Ben Cherington having come from the Blue Jays’ front office, he has ties to their team, which could help work out a deal between the two sides. If the opportunity presents itself, the Pirates need to capitalize and get a haul for a Musgrove+Frazier package.