DUNEDIN, Fla. — The writing has been on the outfield wall for so long that Randal Grichuk new this day was coming.
In fact, the veteran Blue Jays outfielder helped push along the process.
Before the player who had slipped to fourth on the Jays outfield depth chart was dealt to the Colorado Rockies on Thursday for Raimel Tapia — a speedier replacement with a left-handed bat — Grichuk made his intentions known.
He did it despite his affection for the current group of Jays, but one he was feeling less and less valued among, given his reduction in playing time.
“Randal Grichuk is a great baseball player,” general manager Ross Atkins said on a rainy afternoon at the team’s headquarters after a Grapefruit League game with Atlanta was cancelled.
“But his skill set was very similar to our other outfielders.”
Boom! In other words, at age 30 and with the inconsistency bug plaguing his output, Grichuk was expendable.
The emergence of Teoscar Hernandez with a bat that couldn’t be kept out of the lineup and some competent play at the corner outfield spots was one factor.
Another was the 2021 free agent acquisition of George Springer as the every-day center fielder, a spot Grichuk held for the better parts of two seasons.
So, just three years less a couple off weeks after signing a five-year, $53-million US extension with the Jays, he was expendable. And now he’s gone.
“He wants to play every day and he wasn’t sure that was going to happen,” Atkins said, candidly revealing some of the conversations he had with the 30-year-old Texan while admitting Grichuk was up-front in telling him he open to being traded.
“We had a lot of conversations about that and understood that he was very positive about us and this team. He was consistently talking about what his role was going to be.”
However, in this case, not going to be.
Over time, that role was limited in part by Grichuk’s inconsistency at the plate. There were months such as April and May in 2021 when he was pistol hot and there were others when he would go stone cold, much to his and his team’s frustration.
He clearly didn’t like being used in a part-time role and wasn’t shy about sharing that opinion.
In Tapia, the Jays hope they have someone who not only adds more consistency — he can hit — but someone whose speed will play well both in the outfield and on the basepaths.
And by acquiring Tapia, who has efficiently been a left fielder in his 329 major-league games with the Rockies, the Jays clearly feel they are getting an upgrade over Grichuk.
“It’s just a better complementary piece,” Atkins said.
“Tapia is exciting. He’s extremely talented. There are a lot of tools and a lot about how he complements us in the contact ability, the defense ability, the run tool, obviously being left-handed. Love the teammate, so we’re excited to acquire him.”
It’s clear that the Jays pro scouting reports focused on Tapia’s speed. Those kind of wheels play well in the outfield but there’s more to him than that.
Atkins had been on the hunt for a left-handed bat throughout the off-season and Tapia, who had a .273 batting average in 133 games with the Rockies last season, provides that option.
He also hit six homers, stole 20 bases and had an attractive 13.1 strikeout rate. In his 439-game big league career, Tapia sports a .280 batting average.
“The base-running tool is elite,” Atkins said. “Not much base stealing, but he’s one of the fastest base-runners in the game — home to first, second to home.
“So he has a lot ability to impact our offense.”
It’s been an extremely hectic three weeks for Atkins since the lockout ended and he’s continued to shop towards an improved roster. Grichuk was central to the Jays shopping and finally yielded a deal, which also includes minor-league infielder Adrian Pinto.
“(Talks) have been going on for some time and then it started to get more serious as we re-opened,” Atkins said. “There’s been a dialogue back and forth with a lot of different teams. Our outfielders are very attractive.
“All the trades we were looking at, this one in particular, we were (looking at) acquiring major-league for major-league talent.”
And so ends the Grichuk era in Toronto, a tenure that at one point had him pegged as a central component of the grand rebuild. Circumstances and other outfielders leaping by him on the depth chart by showing more progress at the plate, ultimately led to the exit.
That bulky extension that seemed like the potential start of something big, didn’t pan out.
But at least for Grichuk, who told Sportsnet he was bittersweet about the exit, will get the opportunity to boost his bat in the thin air of the hitter friendly Coors Field.