Nicholson-Smith: Searching for infield help

Brendan Ryan, a skilled defensive shortstop, could catch the attention of a team like the Toronto Blue Jays.
May 1, 2013, 12:27 PM

There are many reasons to be concerned about the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays, not the least of which is the state of their middle infield. The Blue Jays have been getting less than adequate production from their second basemen and shortstops since Jose Reyes sprained his ankle.

The team’s second basemen rank last in the American League in batting average and on-base percentage thanks to the struggles of Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio. After briefly energizing the fan base, shortstop Munenori Kawasaki has regressed, returning to his career norms at the plate.

And then there’s the defence. It’s been shaky all year, and the errant throw from Kawasaki to Izturis on Tuesday night was characteristic of a team that has made more than its share of defensive miscues up the middle.

Izturis’ low batting average on balls in play suggests his offensive numbers should improve to an extent, but the club could decide to seek outside options if the struggles continue.

Finding reinforcements at this point in the season is always a challenge. Trade talks haven’t begun in earnest, free agency offers few viable options, and other teams — the New York Yankees, for example — could also have interest in acquiring an infielder.

That said, Alex Anthopoulos is not one to pass up the chance for a roster upgrade. The Toronto general manager makes roster moves as frequently as anyone in the game as he looks to find an edge on the competition.

Here’s a speculative look at some of the teams Anthopoulos could call if the Blue Jays look outside of the organization for middle infield reinforcements:

SEATTLE MARINERS

Brendan Ryan

Ryan’s a brilliant defender yet he recently lost his starting role. Robert Andino now shares the shortstop job with Ryan, who has approximately $2.5 million remaining on his $3.25 million salary.

The right-handed hitter has hit .241/.304/.321 in seven seasons at the MLB level. He doesn’t add value on offence, but how many shortstops in baseball make plays like this with regularity? Ryan’s glove would be an upgrade over Kawasaki, his former teammate.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Troy Tulowitzki appears to be healthy, and Nolan Arenado has arrived at the MLB level, meaning the Rockies could part with infield depth. They have as many as three trade candidates.

Chris Nelson

Nelson is available after being designated for assignment over the weekend. The 27-year-old bats from the right side and has a respectable .279/.322/.416 batting line in parts of four seasons at the MLB level.

Most of Nelson’s big league experience comes at third base, though he has played 54 games at second. The Yankees are among the teams that could have interest in the former first round pick.

Reid Brignac

The Blue Jays are familiar with Brignac, who spent five years with the Tampa Bay Rays before being traded to Colorado in February.

Brignac isn’t starting for Colorado, and can play multiple positions, including shortstop and second base. The left-handed hitting 27-year-old was traded for cash considerations and a player to be named later earlier this year, an indication that his trade value is low.

Jonathan Herrera

Herrera, another member of the Rockies’ bench, has shown some on base skills in recent years. The switch hitter has a career .259/.321/.326 batting line, though part of his production can be attributed to hitter-friendly Coors Field.

Herrera has experience at second base, third base and shortstop. He’ll be arbitration eligible again following the 2013 season at which point he could be a non-tender candidate.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Alex Gonzalez

Gonzalez should return to the Brewers’ bench when Aramis Ramirez returns from the disabled list, at which point a trade could be possible.

The former Toronto shortstop resembles many current Blue Jays in that he hits for some power but strikes out often and has issues reaching base. The 36-year-old has historically been an above-average defensive player.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Ronny Cedeno

Cedeno doesn’t add much value on offence. A career .248/.290/.359, he has no discernible platoon split. On the plus side, the right-handed hitting 30-year-old has plenty of recent experience at both middle infield positions and would presumably be available in trade talks.

He’s not starting in Houston, and if the Astros could get a prospect with a hint of upside for Cedeno, they might be tempted.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti has increased flexibility in trade talks now that Hanley Ramirez has been activated from the disabled list. Two players on the Los Angeles bench could be available.

Skip Schumaker

Schumaker might have some appeal because of his ability to reach base and hit right-handed pitching. While he’s struggling at the plate in 2013, he owns a .344 on-base percentage in nine MLB seasons. Now 33, he’s not an option at shortstop.

Nick Punto

Punto, 35, is another role player best-suited for second base. Light-hitting shortstop Dee Gordon surfaced in trade talks during the offseason, but wouldn’t seem to be a fit in Toronto.

CHICAGO CUBS

Brent Lillibridge

Lillibridge recently cleared waivers on his way to the minor leagues, which means the Blue Jays passed on him at least once. The career .207/.271/.339 hitter won’t add value on offence, but he can play a variety of positions, including shortstop and second base. He’s now playing for the Cubs’ top affiliate.

Alberto Gonzalez

Gonzalez also cleared waivers on his way to Triple-A last month. The 29-year-old has experience in seven MLB seasons, including 100-plus games at both middle infield positions. Like Lillibridge, Gonzalez struggles with the bat. He’s a career .241/.279/.319 hitter.

As expected, the options aren’t overwhelming. The Mariners and Rockies seem like the most logical trade partners, depending on what those clubs seek in return.

If the Blue Jays don’t like what they see on the trade market, they could always rely on players already within the organization.

Brett Lawrie played second base during his minor league rehabilitation assignment and could return to the position — at least in theory.

Moving Lawrie to second base would open up third base for Jose Bautista and open a spot in the outfield for top prospect Anthony Gose. The 22-year-old has a .360 on-base percentage with the Blue Jays’ Buffalo affiliate.

One way or another, the Blue Jays need more production from their middle infielders. Staying the course may seem unappealing after the disappointing opening month, but outside options each have flaws of their own. There’s no easy fix for Anthopoulos.

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