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Toronto Blue Jays

No, Billy Hamilton wouldn’t be an outfield upgrade

Despite the fact that he’s one of the fastest players in baseball, Billy Hamilton was designated for assignment by the Reds. There’s a reason for that.

The offseason is an exciting time to look at available players and imagine what kind of upgrade they could bring to your favourite team. While the Blue Jays won’t be big shoppers this offseason, there are still options that could make sense in the short and long term, like their reported interest in Dallas Keuchel for example.

A new list of available options hit the market on Friday as teams hit their deadline for extending a contract to arbitration eligible players. The Blue Jays extended that offer to all but one of their players, choosing to let Yangervis Solarte walk after a very difficult second half of the 2018 season. He was the only Blue Jay that met that fate, but he was far from alone across the league, as several veterans are now free agents as well. That includes one of the fastest players in the league, Billy Hamilton, formerly of the Cincinnati Reds.

For years he’s been a player that has been pretty intriguing from afar, but perhaps that’s because I haven’t been paying that close of attention. Because for as exciting as his speed potential is and could be, he still struggles greatly at a more important facet of the game: getting on base.

Hamilton has been the leadoff hitter for much of his career with the Reds, but it might be his speed and profile that’s landed him there more than anything. Last season he slashed .236/.299/.327 in 504 at bats, which is pretty unacceptable for any big league regular, let alone someone who should be at the top of the lineup. The thing is, it wasn’t like it was a terrible season by his standards, as his career slash line is .245/.298/.333 across parts of six seasons and just shy of 2500 at bats.

Not unlike the Blue Jays’ own centre fielder in Kevin Pillar, the Reds and their fans have waited for years for Hamilton to put things together at the plate and become an asset on both sides of the ball. While he’s alway been a tremendous asset on the base paths, he’s simply not getting on-base enough for it to truly matter.

I completely understand the knee jerk reaction to think that the Blue Jays would be interested. Even knowing that his offensive numbers were weak, I went and double checked them today to see if there was a way to justify it. In my mind the answer is a simple no.

It’s not that the Blue Jays have a plethora of star-ready outfielders that he would be blocking, but he’s really not an upgrade over what they already have. The Blue Jays are expected to sport an outfield that will include some combination of Pillar, Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, Billy McKinney, and maybe Dwight Smith Jr. There are other options available in Triple-A as well, especially if the Blue Jays end up trading someone like Pillar. Quite simply, they would be better off playing some of their younger players and seeing what they’ve got at the big league level.

Next: Seven non-tendered players who could help the Jays

In Billy Hamilton, I think it’s more or less known what he’s going to bring to the table for a big league ball club. I have no doubt that he’ll get another shot in 2019, and he’ll probably even get a starting gig somewhere. However, that shot shouldn’t come in Toronto, even if it’s exciting to think about a 27 year old player with 277 career stolen bases already.

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