TORONTO – There is a new urgency to the moment for the Toronto Blue Jays that is reflected in their decision-making, illustrated best by the aggressive flirtation with a long-term shift of Jose Bautista from right field to third base and Brett Lawrie from the hot corner to second base.
Apparently on hold for the moment as their makeshift plans in the wake of Jose Reyes’ ankle injury continue to evolve, seemingly by the hour, the fast-paced chain of events in recent days is in marked contrast to the methodical process that led to Bautista’s move from the outfield to infield back in 2011.
That summer, unable to stomach any more of Jayson Nix at third base while Lawrie recovered from the broken hand that delayed his ascension to the majors, the Blue Jays switched Bautista’s position on June 23 following an ugly sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves.
They gave the star slugger four days to prepare his body by taking ground balls, inserted him into the lineup at third base on June 28 and left him there for all but four games until Aug. 5, a total of 25 contests in all, when Lawrie joined the team in Baltimore to make his debut.
The circumstances were obviously very different this time, with Reyes’ in-game injury causing necessity to become the mother of invention. But playing Bautista there the next two days without giving his body time to adjust, and throwing Lawrie into a rehab game at second base for the first time since 2010 would not have happened so quickly in the past, given the club’s generally cautious leanings in such matters.
This season, with Reyes still expected to miss three months after a specialist confirmed his left ankle sprain doesn’t require surgery, there’s no time to waste, which is why the improvisation came fast and furious. But the back tightness Bautista experienced Sunday and caused him to sit Monday was an unintended consequence, one that has given manager John Gibbons pause about the entire idea.
“Oh yeah, we’re not dead set on doing that anyway,” said Gibbons. “The way we looked at it, put Brett over there at second base just to see if he can do it. We’re in a jam, there’s no question about it, we just want to look at it and see how we may be stronger. But it’s not something we’re locked into that we’re definitely going to do. This (Bautista’s back issue) definitely doesn’t help it.”
With Lawrie due back from the disabled list Tuesday, and GM Alex Anthopoulos saying that middle infield help from outside the organization at for now appears unlikely because “of what the asks have been on some of the players,” the Blue Jays must decide how much risk there is in juggling their defensive alignment.
As Gibbons noted, “When you get so many guys out of position from what their norm is, that can cause you problems, too.”
Anthopoulos, however, didn’t seem as bearish on the prospect as Gibbons, suggesting that Lawrie may very well end up at second periodically, and wondering if Bautista’s back soreness was simply the result of taking too many grounders Saturday.
“He’s fine,” said Anthopoulos, who expects Bautista to play Tuesday. “This is just an isolated thing. We know he can play the position on an everyday basis. He’s done it for months at a time up here, he’s had seasons up here where he’s played it back and forth, and he did it for years with the Pirates. … Again, it’s just to give us more flexibility. We don’t know what’s going to happen the next few months.”
They don’t, but clearly the Blue Jays are using the Reyes injury as an opportunity to shoehorn in some practice for a variety of different scenarios. An infield that includes Bautista at third and Lawrie at second could open right field for Anthony Gose should the top prospect force the issue, or perhaps somebody via trade, since Reyes is expected back around the all-star break, just ahead of the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
Lawrie, drafted as a catcher but turned into a second baseman by the Milwaukee Brewers, played second for single-A Dunedin both Sunday and Monday, impressing Blue Jays scouts and roving infield instructor Mike Mordecai in the process.
“It was a lot better than they thought it was going to be,” said Anthopoulos. “It was almost to the point they were talking they didn’t know defensively is he stronger at third or at second. That’s just a credit to how good an athlete he is.”
He’d certainly change for the better the current middle infield plan, as the Blue Jays are for the moment looking at riding out Reyes’ recovery with Munenori Kawasaki and Maicer Izturis sharing duties at shortstop, and Emilio Bonifacio, Mark DeRosa and Izturis handling second base.
Without changes to the roster and Bautista at third and Lawrie at second, Bonifacio and Rajai Davis could split duties in right field, with Kawasaki and Izturis to handle shortstop. Bonifacio, who’s struggled at second base thus far, is the team’s best leadoff candidate in Reyes’ absence, with Lawrie ticketed for a spot in the middle of the order right now.
“What it’s come down to is we’re scrambling, trying to find what’s going to make the team the best,” said Gibbons.
And at this point there are no definitive answers, and plenty of options on the table.