There are some among us who, believe it or not, actually compile lists breaking down the often overwhelming tasks that they’re presented with into individual items for completion. When presented with multiple things that must get done, my personal strategy is to procrastinate until the last minute and then internalize all my anxiousness at not having completed anything until I break out in a stress rash or get a stomach ulcer. From there I’m usually able to get out of my duties with a doctor’s note.
Unfortunately for the decision makers in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, doctor’s notes aren’t going to excuse them from making the decisions that need to be made ahead of the first game of the regular season on April 1st. And so, as a favour to Alex Anthopoulos, John Farrell and their respective management and coaching staffs, I’ve created a tidy to do list for their assistance.
Item #1: Stop Pretending Jo-Jo Reyes Is A Starter.
If Jo-Jo Reyes has proven anything during his brief time in professional baseball, it’s that he can’t handle the rigors of being a starting pitcher. Match his injury prone past with his failures in getting right handed batters out and the Jays need for a left handed reliever in the bullpen, and it seems obvious that Reyes, who is out of Minor League options, should be the team’s lefty specialist.
Item #2: Do The Right Thing With Kyle Drabek And Zach Stewart.
I tend not to sit on the fence too much when comes to baseball issues, and I’m even more outspoken when it comes to the Blue Jays. But for whatever it means when people say “the life of me,” I can’t manage to form an opinion on the best development path for Kyle Drabek and Zach Stewart. I realize that there’s no one answer and that each pitcher should be handled individually, but you would think that the experience gained by pitching in the Majors is unparalleled, and if there was ever a year for a young pitcher to find his bearings at the Major League level with the Toronto Blue Jays, this is the season. However, the fact that neither pitcher has had a single start at the Triple A level does raise some questions, as does the Jays eagerness to run up their service time in a year that’s likely a one step back for the sake of two steps forward scenario.
Item #3: Fill Out The Rest Of The Rotation.
Depending on what the Jays decide to do with Drabek, Reyes and Stewart, there are a number of options to filling out the rotation. Only because I can’t imagine the team keeping Stewart up while demoting Drabek, my least favourite option would be a combination of Reyes and Drabek as the fourth and fifth starter. I could live with Drabek and Stewart in the rotation assuming that Toronto believes a season in the big leagues will make them better starters in the future, just as I could understand going with Drabek and Rzepczynski or Litsch. Another likely option that I might be leaning toward would be to start the season with Rzepczynski and Litsch in the fourth and fifth spot before calling up Drabek and then Stewart at the first opportunity. This option might temper some expectations out of the gate and allow both prospects the opportunity to face more seasoned hitters before making the jump to the Majors.
Item #4: Assign The Bullpen Roles.
We’ve talked before about the differences that defined roles in a bullpen make, and even though I don’t think a team should settheir relievers by tying them to a specific inning, I’ve to come to grips with it happening. The Jays should break camp with the following seven relievers no matter what their numbers might look like after Spring Training: Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Jason Frasor, Octavio Dotel, Shawn Camp, Jo-Jo Reyes and David Purcey. That leaves Jesse Carlson, Casey Janssen, Robert Ray, Josh Roenicke and Carlos Villanueva on the outside looking in. I would further break them up as follows: Francisco as closer, Rauch and Frasor for the 7th and 8th, Dotel only faces tough right handed batters, Reyes faces tough left handed batters, while Camp and Purcey come in as needed.
Item #5: Send Brett Lawrie To Triple A.
I know that Anthopoulos has said that he would never keep a player in the Minor Leagues simply for contractual purposes, but if there’s a question as to the readiness of Drabek and Stewart, then how can you not wonder about 21 year old Brett Lawrie. Yes, he’s had a fantastic Spring to this point, but as Keith Law says, “Spring training stats are as useful as homeopathy.” No one wants to punish ambition, but by sending Lawrie to Triple A Las Vegas they’re putting him in a position to only grow his swaggerish confidence in a hitter’s league where he can get an even better handle on fielding third base. And that’s not mentioning the benefits of not starting his service time prematurely.
Item #6: Fill Out The Bench.
Depending on the health of Scott Podsednik, who would make a good platoon partner for Juan Rivera, the team’s starting lineup should be set: J.P. Arencibia at catcher, Adam Lind at first base, Aaron Hill at second base, Jose Bautista at third base, Yunel Escobar at shortstop, Rivera and Podsednik splitting time in right field, Rajai Davis in center field, Travis Snider in left field and Edwin Encarnacion as the designated hitter. That’s ten players added to the five starters and seven bullpen guys already on the team, leaving three bench spots to be filled. One bench spot is given to backup catcher Jose Molina, another goes to defensive specialist John McDonald and the third and final spot goes to Mike McCoy, if for no other reason than his positional flexibility.
Item#7: Set The Lineup.
I already nerded it up with what the numbers suggest would be the optimal Blue Jays lineup. And while it might seem counter intuitive I’d be in favour of batting Bautista at leadoff or in the fourth spot. Crazy talk, I know, but before you get all bent out of shape about it, read how I came up with those ideas.
Item #8: Don’t Forget About Eric Thames.
I’ve had a bit of a thing for Eric Thames for a while, even going so far (perhaps too far) to suggest that he was yet another reason why signing Bautista to a long term deal was unnecessary. It kind of blows my mind a little bit that his relatively few at bats has raised more awareness about him than his great on base percentage throughout his Minor League career and sudden power surge last year in New Hampshire. I put him in the same boat as both Drabek and Lawrie, in that if an opportunity presents itself to get regular plate appearances, call him up. Spending time in the Pacific Coast League is only going to increase Thames’ confidence and give him the opportunity to face more experienced pitching.