He’s got great power, he’s occasionally incredibly frustrating to watch, and he’s an outfielder on a team full of outfielders – it’s time to welcome Derek Fisher to the stage!
I get it. I really do. Fisher’s brand of baseball to this point has been a lot of raw power and talent mixed into a player who often seems naturally at odds with the basics of the sport. It’s confusing to watch him field so poorly, because you know the talent to be a much more solid player is there. Fisher’s the headliner when it comes to players who just need something to click.
Yet, here we are, in a world where he’s not only on his second team, he’s not even considered to be a favourite to make the Toronto Blue Jays out of Spring Training. At least, not by the public eye – and while it was my first instinct to say he’ll probably get dealt as an additional name in a bigger trade, it’s actually an easy argument to come up with as to why he might be a surprise roster lock by Opening Day.
This offseason, the Blue Jays have signed (or re-signed) Robbie Ray, Steven Matz, and Tyler Chatwood. They’ve kept Tanner Roark and Shun Yamaguchi on-board as well. It’s incredibly different to their approach to building a contending lineup – the pitching additions are all different variations of the same idea.
They’re all reasonably low-risk players who haven’t played well of late (to put it kindly, for a couple of them), but they all have a ton of talent and if they play to their respective potentials, they can contribute in a big way to give the team some solid additions that will fly under most radars.
Now, be honest. Imagine if Derek Fisher, a left-handed hitter with a ton of unpolished pop in his bat, was playing for a different team in 2020. Now envision a timeline where he left that team to become a free agent, and the Blue Jays sign him as yet another lottery ticket for their roster.
It would fit right in with Toronto’s new offseason brand, except as a hitter, he’d be seen as a much lower risk.
Let’s head back to reality – which is essentially the same, except Fisher’s been here for 56 games and has surely already built a foundation with the team’s coaching staff. You’d have to imagine that the Blue Jays would absolutely love to trade Randal Grichuk, which would not only leave Jonathan Davis and Josh Palacios alongside Fisher as the team’s backup outfielders, but it would also likely promote Rowdy Tellez into the everyday lineup.
Excluding Reese McGuire, who isn’t exactly scaring anyone at the plate lately, Tellez was the only left-handed option on the bench, and now that he’s in the lineup, that would leave McGuire and Fisher as the two lefties alongside Santiago Espinal and another name.
If the team decides to go with a single outfielder on the bench, Fisher would appear to have an edge over Davis and Palacios for two reasons. As mentioned, he’s left-handed. If the team values lefty/righty matchups, he’s a stark contrast to not only the other two bench candidates, but also the three starters, as Lourdes Gurriel Jr., George Springer, and Teoscar Hernández are all right-handed.
Fisher is also the only one of the three bench choices that doesn’t have any options remaining – the Blue Jays can easily send both Davis and Palacios to AAA to begin the season and keep flexibility in case of an injury or if someone underperforms. It would be nice to have both Davis and Fisher on the team at once, but it seems redundant at this point, given that neither are currently standout hitters – and Davis’ defensive abilities aren’t as useful when he’s not in the lineup every day.
This all leaves Toronto with a bench of Reese McGuire or Alejandro Kirk, depending on what happens in the spring. It’s worth mentioning that Kirk jumped right from A-ball to MLB last season, so they could opt to start him in AAA to get him ready first.
After that, it’s probably Santiago Espinal, Derek Fisher, and an unknown.
This is all shaping up pretty well, to be honest. I’d imagine that the Jays would appreciate the extra flexibility that sending Davis down for a while would bring. It would also let the team give Fisher one more chance to try and unlock some of the potential they saw back when they acquired him in the Aaron Sanchez trade.
The last thing you’d want to do is give up on Fisher now and regret it later. Look at Pittsburgh when they decided enough was enough with José Bautista. Pittsburgh decided that half a season of Francisco Liriano was worth trading away Teoscar Hernández. Is now really the time to sell low on a guy who was seen as a legitimate prospect as recently as in 2019?
The more I think about it, the more I’m confident in saying that Derek Fisher could still be a key contributor to a competitive Toronto Blue Jays team. He deserves one more chance to begin a full season on the Major League roster unless something looks extremely wrong in Spring Training. If it works, fantastic. If we’re in mid-May and it’s clearly not working, the team can move to Davis. There’s very little risk – and that’s not even factoring in how helpful it can be to have multiple outfielders in reserve for a team. (Remember the Chris Colabello-in-left-field era?)
(Fun fact: Vernon Wells was a key part of the Bautista-suddenly-becomes-a-power-hitter story. It sure would be cool if a certain new Blue Jays centre fielder could help Fisher out, wouldn’t it? They were teammates before…)
What about that last bench spot?
This could go in a number of directions, and it’s possible that none of it has to do with Derek Fisher. Sure, his path to being a potential contributor is a lot smoother if Randal Grichuk is dealt for a pitcher, but even if Grichuk stays, Fisher could still take that fourth bench spot. Which brings us to the obvious: if Grichuk is still on the Toronto Blue Jays on Opening Day, he’ll be splitting time with Rowdy Tellez as that other bench spot.
Let’s have a look into other timelines, though. If Grichuk is dealt and Tellez is an everyday player, that still leaves the Jays with one open spot. They could put Davis there, but as I stated earlier, that would be a little redundant in a world that has Fisher on the club to start the season. No one else currently in the Jays system seems likely to start the season there except for a couple of the non-roster invitees. (Otto Lopez hit .254 with 0 home runs in LIDOM this winter, he’s not ready yet.)
Taking a glance at the list, there are currently three hitters the Jays want to take a look at. Tyler White, Richard Ureña, and Forrest Wall.
Wall is another lefty outfielder, so if the Jays look at Fisher in Spring Training and decide to move on (or trade him before then, which is still not impossible), he’s a candidate for a roster spot – but Wall is a converted second baseman who didn’t hit particularly well in either AA nor AAA in 2019. Unless he manages to have a standout month, he’s probably not a serious candidate for a roster spot.
Ureña is actually younger than Santiago Espinal, and there might be a small battle for this spot as well, but Espinal played great defense last year and quickly moved into a role where he appeared to be one of Charlie Montoyo’s favourites. I think Espinal’s got this roster spot. The Blue Jays have long benefited from the slick-fielding backup infielders, from the John McDonald era to the Ryan Goins one.
That leaves us with Tyler White, who spent most of last season with the SK Wyverns of the KBO. I’d love to bring meaningful stats to the table, but he was injured with fractured fingers for the majority of 2020, and only hit .136 when he was on the field. White is the most interesting player to follow of the three invitees, especially considering the Jays seem to like scouting across NPB and KBO, but he’s far from a lock as well. Daniel Vogelbach brought a much more impressive resume to Toronto, and he lasted four at-bats in 2020 with the team.
Which kind of brings the Blue Jays to an interesting point in time. Even if they sign another bench player or keep Randal Grichuk, Derek Fisher should still have a roster spot to lose for the first few weeks of the season at the very least.
Blue Jays fans seem to be pretty vocal about wanting a left-handed bat on the bench and there are few intriguing options on the free agent side of things. It’s time for Derek Fisher’s next chapter – let’s see if it’s a good one.
“File:Anibal Sanchez vs. Derek Fisher (23) Washington Nationals vs. Toronto Blue Jays at Nationals Park, July 27, 2020 (All-Pro Reels Photography) (50161538481).jpg” by All-Pro Reels from District of Columbia, USA is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0