Over the past few years the Toronto Blue Jays have employed some less than stellar options at second base. Guys like Ryan Goins, Munenori Kawasaki, Emilio Bonifacio and Kelly Johnson have all spent considerable time at the position. And none of them have done particularly well at it.
And for at least two years, we’ve known this. Heading into last year, especially, we all conceded second base was a bit of a black hole. Last year, by fWAR, it was 15th in baseball, buoyed entirely by the fact the team’s third baseman, Brett Lawrie, spent time there. The other options were all more or less replacement level.
So, with an aging but still top tier shortstop on board, coupled with a first base/DH combination that features one of the best hitters against right handed pitching and one of the best hitters in baseball period, as well as a starting catcher that was basically your team’s biggest move the previous off season and a 24-year-old third baseman who can also fill in admirably at second base, what do you do?
Surely you don’t focus on finding a legit second baseman, that’d be silly.
Nope, you basically turnover the rest of the infield/catcher/DH position.
And it might just work.
The Jays’ infield is going to look quite different in 2015. Gone are the aforementioned Lawrie and the righty masher Adam Lind. Last year’s starting catcher Dioner Navarro will either be backing up or moving to a new city in a trade, as Russell Martin takes over as the starting backstop. First base appears to be new acquisition Justin Smoak’s job for the taking. Edwin Encarnacion is slotted in, more or less, as the full time DH. Josh Donaldson has taken over the hot corner.
Basically, the only mainstays from last year’s team are EE, Jose Reyes and the black hole that is second base.
And I’m quite excited about it.
There is a lot to like about what GM Alex Anthopoulos has done with the infield/DH/catcher. For the past couple years we’ve been so focused on the black hole at second base that I think we’ve overlooked the problems with the rest of the infield. Yes, Brett Lawrie is still young. And yes, despite being kind of douchey I love the guy and hope he has a great career. And yes he has shown spurts of being the guy everyone hopes he will be.
But in the four seasons he’s spent time at the big league level, Lawrie has yet to show a) he can play a full season, and b) he’s got the potent bat everyone is dreaming on.
Since becoming a full time big leaguer in 2012, Lawrie has played in fewer games each season, and when he has played, his bat has been a fairly consistent one, with season wOBA totals of .319, .314 and .320 in the last three years.
With his defence, that’s actually pretty decent. Over a full season, he’d be pretty valuable.
But…Josh Donaldson. He’s been consistently good, and consistently healthy, since coming up. Comparing the two for 2015, you could safely argue that Lawrie’s ceiling is Donaldson’s floor.
And…Russell Martin. Again, Navarro’s not a bad player. In a position starved of real quality, Navarro is a solid piece. But also, in a position that’s starved of real quality, Martin is one of the very few star back catchers.
And then…Justin Smoak. OK, that’s not super exciting. But forgive me if I can’t be arsed into worrying too much about replacing a guy who’s 31 years old and brings quite literally one skill (hitting righties) to the table with a 28-year-old who maybe doesn’t have the top end skill of Lind, but who is at least more well rounded and who also has some upside. With the combination of youth and his playing so many games in Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim, there’s certainly reason for optimism when it comes to Smoak.
Throw all that together, and what do you have?
Well, significant upgrades in both skill level and certainty at catcher and third base. Shortstop and DH are still the same, and there’s some upside if you can find a way to keep Reyes healthy. Second base is still a bit of mess, albeit there might be enough to cobble together something, and there is potential help on the way in the form of Devon Travis.
First base might be a downgrade, but in the overall it might also be an upgrade. Yes, you’re not getting the 300-400 awesome plate appearances against righties that Adam Lind brings. But you’re getting that upside. And really, what’s the difference between EE/Lind/lefty masher and EE/Smoak/lefty mashers/starters who get a half-day off? Maybe I’m understating Lind’s ability to hit righties, but it simply doesn’t seem like a lot.
Overall, I think the Jays have more skill, more certainty, and more reason for optimism in 2015 when it comes to the infield.