A ‘bittersweet’ trade sends Randal Grichuk to the Rockies
DUNEDIN, Fla.—Handsome Randy, as the wildly popular meme had it, is taking his kisser to Colorado.
And a pretty penny saved by the Toronto Blue Jays, despite the “cash considerations” that were part of the deal that sent Randal Grichuk to the Rockies on Thursday in exchange for fleet-footed Raimel Tapia — outfielder for outfielder — and teenage minor-leaguer Adrian Pinto.
There was a slightly long face, fleetingly, punctuated by tremulous dimpled smiles, all the emotions writ large in the immediate aftermath of the trade being imparted to Grichuk by GM Ross Atkins. Although the news had already leaked out on social media, with a text popping up on Grichuk’s phone: “Rockies???”
Grichuk, no naïf, had been expecting it, if not the co-ordinates, which actually take him to his new off-season home in Scottsdale, Ariz., where the Rockies have their Cactus League bivouac. So there are all sorts of upsides to the transaction, not least the hitter’s ballpark, Coors Field, in Denver, where balls fly for miles.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” he said.
As his vehicle was brought ’round at the Jays’ extravagant training facility, Grichuk stopped only for a brief interview with Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae. Because he’s gallant that way.
“This is a great team and they have a chance to do a lot of great things. I’ve built some really amazing relationships with a bunch of these guys. Sad, but obviously careerwise for me it’s going to be a great fresh start over there. And I get to go to spring training at home.”
It’s always a gut-wrenching day when a player packs up his bags and bids farewell — Grichuk even hugged the dining room staff goodbye — but especially so for a veteran, even if the future looks bright on both sides now. Let it not be forgotten that Grichuk was a mainstay of this team for four years, the connecting tissue between awful seasons and projected brilliance, the older set and the flashy young guns. He was there when Jose Bautista departed and when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette arrived.
Those were the names he cited when asked if he had a message for his fans.
“I know I’m not Bo or Vladdy talentwise, but I hope they respect the fact I played hard … Regardless of how I was playing, I played the game the right way and I hope they remember that. I love the city, I love the fans, I love this team. I’m going to miss them a lot.
“Just, thank you for everything.”
There was a time, back in 2017, when it certainly appeared as if the Jays intended to construct their future around Grichuk, extending his contract in a $52-million (U.S.) deal taking him through to 2023. That announcement came on the same day that another rather defensively dramatic outfielder, Kevin Pillar, was sent to San Francisco.
The announcement of Grichuk’s enrichment and prolonged fealty caught everyone by surprise. He most definitely believed his future in Toronto was assured and that management viewed him as solid ballast as the team set about reinventing itself. “You’d think so, wouldn’t you,’’ he told this reporter last year, when his status suddenly turned dicey, referring to the $150-million lassoing of marquee free agent George Springer, designated centre-fielder.
But where would the Jays have been without Grichuk last spring, as Springer was plagued by injuries, shelved by oblique and quad woes. In Springer’s absence, Grichuk was restored to everyday starter. He hit .282 in March and April, buttressing a 12-game hitting streak, then .295 in May before tailing off precipitously — Grichuk-watchers will I-told-you-so assert that’s long been his M.O. — to .197 in July and .165 in August. Still, he cranked 22 home runs and a career-high 81 RBIs on the year. “Great centre-field play and he was a monster in April and May,” Atkins reminded.
Since Springer’s acquisition, however, Grichuk knew his egress from the Jays family was likely, sooner or later. “Going into the off-season, I kind of thought there was writing on the wall, and towards the end of last year,” he said Thursday. “I kind of knew that was a realistic possibility. Then obviously with the lockout, things shut down. Coming here, we knew any day, any moment, it could be done.”
He had not specifically asked for a trade, Atkins indicated Thursday.
“We just talked about playing time. He was consistently talking about what his role was going to be. I was confident he was going to have ample playing time over the course of the year. Now he’s probably going to have guaranteed playing time. I think it’s hard for a player as accomplished as Randal to look up and say, ‘Am I going to be in the opening day lineup?’, and not know and have some uncertainty there.”
Toronto’s crowded outfield, with Springer and Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., left little breathing room for Grichuk, although now Tapia presumably inherits the fourth outfielder gig and at a fraction of the cost. Grichuk will earn $10.33 million this year while Tapia, 28, just on Tuesday signed a one-year deal for $3.95 million, to avoid arbitration.