The Jays made it official this afternoon, sending Erik Kratz down in order to accommodate Jonathan Diaz’s return to the roster. This confounds the everloving shit out of people, which… sort of confounds me in return.
Yeah, it’s a bit strange the way that the Jays have set up their roster, but to act like what they’re doing is utterly indefensible is maybe a bit rich. Lots of people pining for Kevin Pillar, or for Kratz to have remained as at least a decent right-handed bat off the bench, or for the eight man bullpen experiment to finally be smothered to death. All of these are fair ideas entirely, and I’m sure that some of my responses on Twitter to people getting upset about the failure to execute them is as much an overreaction as the ones I’m trying to oppose, but… we really are capable of understanding what’s going on, right? We don’t really need to pretend these are fireable offences, do we?
Granted, we’re not all doing this, but bear with me.
Yes, as I noted earlier, Diaz has hit literally nothing since being sent down, but we’re talking less than 30 plate appearances. We’re talking about a guy who can take over defensively at multiple infield positions in late game situations, which has utility with Juan Francisco slated to get an extended look at third base in the near future, with Brett Lawrie slipping over to second. He’s not a great base stealer, but he at least gives John Gibbons a pinch running option, potentially. He’s a more passable shortstop backup than Steve Tolleson, and with the flat-footed Francisco, an ailing, potentially mummified Lawrie, and Jose Reyes — who is getting a day off tonight, in fact — being the club’s theoretical starters, does it not make sense to roster a couple of infielders who can also double as spare outfielders? Especially when they’re right-handed bats, given that the club has three ostensible starters in Francisco, Colby Rasmus, and Adam Lind who have platoon issues with lefties?
No, in Diaz’s case it’s not much of a bat, but looking beyond the last few plate appearances, you see a guy who put up a .358 OBP for Pawtucket last year, a .361 at New Hampshire in 2011, and an expectedly high number in Las Vegas in 2012, but one that was powered less by the hitter’s paradise that is the PCL than it was by a 15.5% walk rate.
There is less time available for a guys like Anthony Gose — who is clearly a weapon on the base paths, but is also a left-handed bat– or Pillar, who can only spell incumbents in the outfield, or the guys at an already-crowded DH spot. And while, yes, Pillar has absolutely been doing well at Buffalo (.309/.349/.463), he’s still a guy who rocketed through three levels last year (AA, AAA, MLB) having never played a game above A-ball when the season began, and he struggled mightily when pressed into big league action. That doesn’t mean the Jays should necessarily shield him, but is it an ideal situation to bring him up and hope the hot bat continues in the big leagues in a limited role? Is it not defensible to choose to not introduce him to such potential for failure, and just let him continue to apprentice at the triple-A level?
I think it is, but certainly it’s debatable. And, of course, they could manage to have both a Pillar and an extra infielder on the roster if they weren’t so insistent on holding so many relievers. We all know the reason for that, however, and it’s the fact that they don’t want to lose guys like Esmil Rogers, J.A. Happ, and Todd Redmond.
Again, debatable, but not exactly indefensible. After all, Rogers, despite being in the middle of an abysmal run, and for all his faults and all the braying about why he’s still here, is viewed, I’m certain, as a tinker away from being a valuable bullpen piece again — and whose underlying numbers one one hand look good (9.33 K/9, 2.95 BB/9), and on the other unlucky (a worse HR/FB% and BABIP than even his last season in Colorado). Now, I’ll grant that it’s a bit of a stretch to call him unlucky — he’s not generating ground balls nearly enough, and that’s going to be a huge problem for him — but that’s something he worked on to some success over the last couple of years (1.1 fWAR over 190.2 IP after moving from Colorado to Cleveland), and the temptation that he can figure it out once again is far more understandable than some of the folks looking only at the results want to believe.
When it comes to Redmond and Happ, you only have to look at a few things to understand what’s going on here. On one hand you have Happ’s first start of the season — underwhelming as it was — and some of the decent work Redmond has provided out of the bullpen in relief of struggling starters. Frustrated fans, quite understandably, will say that they see these guys as no better than any other scrap heap arm that will come available, but that simply isn’t true — check out the names of dreck that has been claimed off waivers since the star of March, via MLBTR’s Transaction Tracker, if you don’t believe me.
On the other hand, you have the fact that the Jays used twelve starters in 2012, and thirteen in 2013, including such luminaries as Joel Carreno, Kyle Drabek, Chad Jenkins, Ricky Romero, Jesse Chavez (when he was bad), Carlos Villanueva, Aaron Laffey, Sean Nolin, Ramon Ortiz, and Chien-Ming Wang, in addition to Rogers, Redmond, and Happ. Depth is a good thing, the Jays have been rightly scarred by the way they’ve been hurt by a lack of it over the last couple of seasons, and it’s certainly arguable that whatever marginal value they’re letting slip away right now could be offset by the marginal value they’ll keep when later in the season they’re not forced to rush Aaron Sanchez in a panic, or make a hopeful turn to guys with pretty minor league numbers (like Liam Hendricks, who is now in his fourth season at triple-A, after failing to ever crack a not-very-good Twins rotation over the last few years, or Sean Nolin, who may end up as more than a warm body, but is hardly a saviour), or ones still living off pedigrees established long ago (Romero, Drabek, Deck McGuire).
Is Alex Anthopoulos minding the trees at the expense of the forest a little bit here? Sometimes I think yes, and I understand that it’s frustrating. And can I explain why Steve Tolleson is leading off for the Jays tonight? No, I cannot — though surely it has something to do with microsplits and the fact that he’s wielding a hot bat of late, in an impossibly tiny sample size. But let’s not act like any of these things is completely indefensible. You don’t have to like the explanations offered, but I think at least understanding them as they are would take some of the blind sourness out of some of the conversation surrounding this aspect of the club right now, and that would be a very good thing. So, too, would a few damn wins, I suspect — and I think that says a lot about what’s going on here, as well, no?
Consider this your Game Threat.