This isn't the way the Toronto Blue Jays would have liked to start the season. In just the 10th game, their all-star shortstop, Jose Reyes, makes an incredibly awkward slide into second base, badly spraining his ankle. He'll be out of the lineup for the next three months -- about half the season.
It hasn't been the start we expected. Poor starting pitching has combined with terrible defence and a slow start for many of the batters to make some of the games hard to watch.
Reyes was one of the few Blue Jay batters off to a great start with the bat. He was hitting .395 with five stolen bases and was great fun to watch -- a very exciting offensive player. Defensively, he showed less range than I expected, but that was more than made up for by his bat. The sooner he is back, the better.
To remain in contention with Reyes on the shelf, the Jays will try to improve their infield defence. It has been just awful. We knew going in that it wasn't likely to be good, but we didn't expect it to be this bad. Terrible defence is party to blame for the pitching not being as good as advertised. Watching ground balls that should be outs roll into the outfield or be booted has to make a pitcher afraid to throw strikes.
To replace Reyes at shortstop, the Jays called up 31-year-old Munenori Kawasaki. Toronto signed him this past off-season as a minor-league free agent. Last year, Kawasaki played for the Seattle Mariners, hitting just .192 in 104 at-bats. Before that, he played in Japan. In his first two games as a Blue Jay, Kawasaki's defence looked much better than what they were getting from Reyes, but his bat won't be anything close to the same. Kawasaki has had a nice start with the bat, picking up a hit and a walk in each of his first two games with Toronto.
Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos is trying to work out a trade to find a better shortstop option.
Bautista back at third base
The Reyes injury has prompted a few other changes that will help the infield defence. First, Jose Bautista has volunteered to play third base. Mark DeRosa and Maicer Izturis had been manning the position, but their defence has been lacking, to put it nicely. DeRosa seems to have almost no range -- one step and a dive is about the best he can do. Izturis shows a bit more range, but his arm isn't strong enough for the long throw across the diamond. In five games at third base, Izturis made two errors.
Bautista isn't a great defensive third baseman -- he'd never win a Gold Glove -- but he has OK range and a good arm. According to FanGraphs.com, Bautista's career UZR/150 is -6.3 in 385 MLB games at third base. UZR per 150 games is a stat that compares a player's defence to the average player at his position. The number is the number of runs the player would save or cost his team compared to the average player: zero is average; +15.0 is very good; -15.0 is very bad. Bautista's might not be a great glove man at third, but he is much better than what the Jays have had this season.
The best part about Bautista moving to third is that it allows Izturis to play second base. Emilio Bonifacio played second in the majority of the first 10 games and was a train wreck. He has four errors in nine games, plus a number of mistakes not marked as errors in boxscores that still cost the team. Izturis is a much better defensive second baseman.
Lawrie may play second base
Soon, hopefully very soon, there should be another addition that will help make up for the loss of Reyes. Brett Lawrie has started to play rehab games in the minors. The interesting part is that the Jays are contemplating the idea of having Lawrie play second, allowing them to leave Bautista at third until Reyes returns. I'm not sold on the idea.
Lawrie has been very good defensive third baseman. FanGraphs.com credited him with a 5.6 UZR/150 in 2012. I think he has enough range to play second, but I'd worry about him turning the double play with his back turned on baserunners sliding into second. Brett did play second back in 2009 and 2010, when he was in the Milwaukee Brewers minor-league system, but as a Jay, he's only played third. I'd be happier with the move if they had him work at second during spring training. A position change with just a few minor-league innings to prepare is asking for trouble.
Whatever position he plays, getting Lawrie's bat back into the lineup will go a long way into making up for the offence lost with the Reyes injury. I'm guessing that Lawrie will be Toronto's leadoff hitter until Reyes returns.
With Lawrie and improvements made to the defence, the Jays should be able to stay in the race until Reyes is ready to play again.
Follow Tom Dakers on Twitter @bluebirdbanter
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