Thursday, February 10, 2011

Who backs up the backups? The soft middle of the Jays' infield

Here's what's been making us shift uncomfortably in our shoes these days: With all the talk of who plays third and where do we fit all the big-hit-no-field corner types into the lineup, we'd barely noticed how thin the Jays are in the middle infield.

Sure, they have Aaron Hill and Yunel Escobar stationed at second and short to start the season, and that combo has the potential to be amongst the best in the Majors. (Avert your eyes from their 2010 numbers, and that statement seems a lot more true.)

(And permit us a quick diversion here: Is it just us, or was the body language between Yunel and Hill really crappy last year. When Escobar would take the ball to the bag himself, you could see the wind being taken out of Hill's sails. That's not going to work over a full 162-game season.)

Both Hill and Escobar have had spotty health records, either missing games or playing at a decreased level because they were hurt for parts of recent seasons. So it's not unreasonable to picture one or both of them nursing injuries or sitting out for weeks on end in 2010.

And who do the Jays have to step in and take over? On the active roster, you'd be looking at John McDonald as the first man off the bench, while the next options on the 40-man roster are Mike McCoy and Adeiny Hechavarria. And that's pretty much that.

We all love Johnny Mac, and if we had to see him play everyday for a week or two, we'd be fine with it. But for a month? Or the bulk of the season? That's a scenario that starts to chip away pretty quickly at our enthusiasm for 85 wins or more in the coming year.

McCoy, superduperplucky as he might be, looked as though he had no real business being on a big league roster in his 46 games with the Jays last year. (.511 OPS in 86 ABs). And Hechavarria would seem to require at least a year of having rough edges sanded and polished before he's ready for a full-time job in Toronto. So neither of them appear to be serious options for 2011. (At least not to us.)

Offseason acquisition and SuperStudCanadianDude Brett Lawrie has stated publicly that he's ready, willing and able to rock and roll all year-long at the MLB level, though his allegedly dodgy defense would not be suitable at short. Moreover, we're not sure that we share his sentiment on his preparedness for the big time. There's a possibility that second could be patrolled by Rule 5 draftee Brad Emaus if he were to be returned to the Jays from the Mets at some point this year. But again, not a shortstop.

Among some of the players who are out of options and may be available between now and April, there is Texas utility infielder Andres Blanco (.679 OPS, meh), perpetual Dodgers prospect Chin-lung Hu (.777 OPS in the PCL last year...he's been a longtime crush of ours, but at age 26, we're starting to give up on him), and Angel Sanchez (.664 OPS after being traded to the Astros for Kevin Cash.)

Which brings us back full circle, to John McDonald. Given the dearth of 2011-ready talent available, we're likely left praying for good health amongst the current starting keystone tandem, or relying on the the PMoD as an everyday player.

We'll leave it to you to judge how comfortable you feel about the notion.


William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Underwear that fits would solve that shifting uncomfortably business.

From your description here, the Blue Jays' bench seems thinner than the Royals pitching staff.

I agree then that other than McDonald, AA better get somebody to help out just in case.

Peter DeMarco said...

This makes leaving Brad Emaus off the Blue Jays roster even more curious. It sounds like he is going to get every opportunity with the Mets.

Check out my interview with former Blue Jay Bob File.

BringVottoHome said...

Letting Emaus get away (the thought seems to be he has a good shot of breaking camp with the Mets) seems like one of AA's few mis-steps. Unless his defense is brutal, he probably would have been a reasonable solution at 3B this year, allowing Bautista to play right field, and solving the 3B hole that the Jays have been seemingly looking to fill all winter.

Tao of Stieb said...

The thing is that the Jays would have had to make someone else available...though I would take Emaus over McCoy.

Maybe his defense is that bad, though.

mike from ottawa said...

Troubling, and I agree it's a weakness in the organization. But it doesn't seem like it's an affliction unique to the Jays, either. Apart from seriously contending teams, who really does have middle infield depth? Backup SS or 2B types aren't generally known for being much to write home about at the plate; that's why they're backups. I wonder to myself whether there aren't a lot of teams out there who would actually be happy to switch places with Toronto, who have a supremely talented defender on the bench waiting to fill in for two young, cost-controlled middle infielders with very good upside. Even in the Jays' own division, you're talking Ramiro Pena, Cesar Izturis, Eliot Johnson, and maybe the best of the bunch, Jed Lowrie. Not exactly murderer's row.

You wonder whether the Jays could shore things up by waiting out a guy like Orlando Cabrera until his price came down, but even then, there would probably be a lot of pressure to put him in the lineup more often than you'd like (probably a greater risk with a Cito-esque manager, but still worth considering as a risk). Even if you do a one-year deal with a guy like that, you have to give a certain amount of playing time to turn him into any kind of asset at the deadline or in free agency.

Peter DeMarco said...

I'd take Emaus over Jo-Jo Reyes and Scott Richmond as well as McCoy.

Tao of Stieb said...

I'm not sure that I would...once the season starts, it's a shite state of affairs to be low on arms. Would rather have Jo-Jo and Richmond on hand if things go pear-shaped.

mike from ottawa said...

Outstanding Trainspotting reference.

Peter DeMarco said...

I guess to be fair, when the decision was made I don't believe the Jays had added Villenuava, Rauch, Dotel, Francisco and others. However, now that they have I think the Jays would have to get hit with a shit ton of injuries for Richmond or Reyes to get a shot. As it is, I expect both Carlson and Villenuava will start the season in the minors, not to mention one of Litsch or Rzep.

Peter DeMarco said...

Also, Jo-Jo is out of options so when he doesn't make the team they will have to let him go anyway.

mike from ottawa said...

Apparently Orlando Cabrera is signing with Cleveland, so forget what I said about that (although I did say someone LIKE him).

Scrappy said...

I'm pretty sure that AA has said that he'll be on the hunt for back-ups at the end of Spring Training once teams start to run out of space, similar to how they got Fred Lewis last year. Maybe in the Globe interview from about a month ago?
I'd like to say I believe in Mike McCoy, but even I can't. Where's Tom Lawless when you need him? Or Rex Hudler?

mike in boston said...

That's a scenario that starts to chip away pretty quickly at our enthusiasm for 85 wins or more in the coming year.

i don't really think there is a rational basis for said enthusiasm, and the organization is on record as saying they aren't looking at last year's win total as any kind of bench mark for the coming season.

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Disagree with Steve. I think this team is very capable of 85 wins or more.