For the Blue Jays, this is the second trade in recent weeks where they’ve added a speedy outfielder with a left-handed bat as a complement to their lineup of right-handed power bats, with the other being Raimel Tapia. Zimmer was selected by Cleveland as the 21st overall pick in the 2014 draft and made his debut in 2017. He didn’t hit a ton, putting up a line of .241/.307/.385 for a wRC+ of just 79 in 101 games. However, he did steal 18 bases and get favorable reviews for his work in the field, which helped him earn a mark of 1.6 wins above replacement, in the estimation of FanGraphs.
Unfortunately, Zimmer has never been able to top that mark since. He started 2018 with the big league club but struggled over 34 games and got optioned down to the minors. A shoulder injury suffered that year wiped out the remainder of his 2018 and most of his 2019 as well. Over 2020 and 2021, he got into 119 big league games and showed a similar profile to his rookie year. The batting line was fairly tepid, coming in at .220/.329/.333 for a wRC+ of 88, but with 17 steals and good defense. On the other hand, he did strike out in 34.2% of his plate appearances, something that has been a persistent issue with him throughout his big league career.
As a lefty hitter, he’s better versus righties but doesn’t have drastic platoon splits for his career. With the Jays featuring a starting outfield of right-handed batters George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Zimmer and Tapia will likely be competing for given those guys the occasional day on the bench or in the DH slot, giving the lineup a different look.
It seems Zimmer was nudged out of the plans in Cleveland, as he didn’t crack the lineup in today’s season opener, with Myles Straw, Amed Rosario and Steven Kwan getting the starting nods on the grass. Blue Jays president/CEO Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins were both working in the Cleveland front office at the time Zimmer was drafted and are clearly willing to take a shot that the 29-year-old can still be valuable. His defense was estimated to be worth seven Outs Above Average by Statcast last year, meaning he can be a productive player even without any offensive improvement. Though development in that department will surely be a goal of his new team. He qualified for arbitration for the first time this year and settled on a salary of $1.3MM. He can be controlled through the 2024 season.
As for the Guardians, they’ve subtracted a player who wasn’t likely to see significant playing time and is out of options, while adding an optionable reliever to their bullpen mix. Castro made his MLB debut in 2020 with Detroit but pitched just a single inning. After going to the Jays on a waiver claim, he was able to log 24 2/3 innings in the bigs last year with a 4.74 ERA, 29.4% strikeout rate and 7.3% walk rate. The 26-year-old has an option year remaining and just over a year of service time, meaning he could be controlled by the Guardians for years to come.