Wednesday, 5 June 2013

On the Coming Roster Crunch

It's not like there isn't all kinds of time to sort this kind of thing out-- Jose Reyes is probably out until the end of the month or so, and Brett Lawrie will miss another week minimum-- but the Jays are going to have a decision in front of them as far as what to do with their infield situation when a couple of regulars return from the disabled list.

Reyes and Lawrie are going to play everyday while they're around, and I don't think anybody is arguing contrary.  What that means is that there will be four guys battling for one position (2b) and probably two bench spots, leaving someone as the odd man out.  First, the candidates:

Emilio Bonifacio is a fast switch-hitter, albeit one with extreme platoon splits, who can play practically all positions.  Rajai Davis is pretty firmly entrenched as the 4th outfielder, and if Anthony Gose is still hanging around, Bonifacio is more-or-less rendered useless as far as his outfield skills go (though Gose will probably be sent back to Buffalo when the NL games are over with in favor of another pitcher).  Boni hasn't been very good so far this year-- below replacement level fielding, below replacement-level offense, and 6 steals vs. 2 caught stealing leaves his positive contributions at pretty much nothing.  He's still a pretty reasonable asset though; John Gibbons loves to use his bench late in the ballgame, and Boni's ability to come in and pinch-run or shift to various defensive positions is something that will allow Gibbons to utilize his bench to the fullest potential in a close game.

Maicer Izturis signed a three-year deal this offseason, but it wasn't your typical three-year deal.  At $10MM guaranteed, it's a contract that the Jays will only need to obtain about 1.7 WAR from to break even on their investment.  Given that Izturis has been worth -1.1 WAR to this point in the year, reaching that mark doesn't really seem likely, but for a major league organization, the value of that contract is a relative pittance; $10MM over three years doesn't cripple a franchise by any means, nor does it even preclude them from making another move to try and remedy it.  Izturis is also a switch hitter, also with the ability to play multiple positions around the infield, and has shown himself to be a relatively good baserunner throughout his career.  Both ZiPS and Steamer project Izturis to return to something resembling his career norms over the rest of the season.  His career-low babip of .226 is probably hurting things so far and should be a reason to expect him to bounce back a bit, but his walk-rate and UZR are both at their lowest of his career as well.  So as to not entirely ignore the human aspect of things, he doesn't play everyday, which could be causing some kind of rust or lack of comfort or whatever.

Munenori Kawasaki, despite being a fan-favorite, isn't incredibly good at baseball.  He hits for no power whatsoever, but that's not really a big deal from a glove-first shortstop.  He's been worth 0.4 WAR to the Blue Jays to this point, thanks mostly to his ~replacement-level defense at shortstop and solid baserunning skills.  One thing he certainly does bring to the table is his ability to draw walks, which isn't really something that can be said about Izturis or Bonifacio.  He's also provided a positive contribution to the team, from a WAR standpoint, which you also can't say about Izturis or Bonifacio.  Despite starting the year in the minor leagues, Muni has probably provided more to this team than any of the four players involved in this roster crunch debate.  The only real issue is that once Reyes comes back, the need for an all-glove shortstop decreases pretty dramatically.

Mark DeRosa was signed mostly to be a 25th man, backup infielder, and provider of wisdom.  One of the all-around nice guys in the league, apparently, over the last few years.  Seems to just show up everyday with a smile on his face and boost the morale of everybody around him or something.  I dunno, tough to quantify. What I can quantify is that DeRosa has found his way in to 34 games, mostly off the bench, and has rocked a tidy little .257/.337/.500 slash line, beating the shit out of lefty pitching.  I don't think he was going to be the odd-man out regardless of performance, but he's crushed lefties in Rajai Davis' absence, and will probably continue to see time against lefty pitching, at least until Reyes and Lawrie return anyway.  At worst, he's still the guy that sits on the bench cheering people along, telling stories about the good ole days.  At best, he's the right-handed hitting part of a 2b platoon.

I wouldn't typically base much off a third of a season's performance, but it seems pretty clear that Munenori Kawasaki has earned his spot on this team.  Beyond that, Mark DeRosa has pulled more than enough weight on the field to justify his bench spot, especially if he's the token veteran on the bench.  The answer lies in making a roster move with either Izturis or Bonifacio, assuming everybody's healthy when Reyes and Lawrie are both back in the lineup, which is a huge assumption in and of itself.

Personally, I'd DFA Maicer Izturis if I had to make up my mind right now.  It's not like either guy is providing anything offensively at the moment (otherwise we wouldn't be having this talk), and Bonifacio's secondary skills (i.e. baserunning and the ability to passably play multiple positions) trump those of Izturis.  If someone wants to try and take Izturis' contract, either on a waiver claim or a trade, then by all means, go nuts.  I feel pretty confident that he'd slide right through the waiver wire untouched, and that he'd report to AAA if he were outrighted, seeing as he's got about $8.75MM left on his contract that he'd be walking away from if he rejected the assignment.  I'd be less surprised if Bonifacio were claimed, given his speed and his relatively cheap price tag.  He'd still be under team control too.

Maybe Maicer dicks around the minors for a while and figures out what has caused the drop in his numbers, and then forces his way back up when a roster spot opens up.  If Muni's performance waivers, or if someone in the infield gets hurt, he can still be brought back up.

It's certainly going to be interesting to see what AA does, if he needs to make a move in the near future.  Of course, there's still lots of time between now and that decision.  Given the news about the biogenesis stuff, there's a non-zero chance that the Jays are going to need to find another LF if Melky Cabrera gets tied up in all of this again.  The Jays could decide to try and move Colby Rasmus or Adam Lind before the deadline, or send DeRosa to a contender, making room.  Another injury could rear it's head, or one of Reyes and Lawrie could suffer a setback.  Hell, maybe Lawrie just gets optioned to Buffalo.

There may not need to be a roster move made involving any of these guys, since a lot can happen in a month, but let's just make sure that Maicer's contract doesn't blind us from what is a logical option.

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