The timeline for Jose Reyes’ return to Toronto remains somewhat hazy, but it’s clear that he will be playing shortstop for the Blue Jays again before long — likely within the next week or so.
And while Reyes’ appearance in a rehabilitation game Monday represents another positive development for the streaking Blue Jays, it’s also a reminder that the team will face a difficult roster decision before long.
Once Reyes returns he’ll become the starting shortstop, and the Blue Jays will be forced to remove a current player from the roster.
Yet the Blue Jays continue playing their best baseball of the season with contributions now coming from virtually the entire roster. Creating roster space won’t be easy.
Here’s a speculative look at a few of the ways the Blue Jays could make space on the 25-man roster.
Remove Munenori Kawasaki from the roster:
Fan favourite or not, Kawasaki could be the one to go. He has become the team’s primary shortstop against right-handed pitching, but he’s not ideally suited to a bench role.
Bench players should ideally have one or two standout skills that enable them to thrive in specific situations. That’s why you see speedsters, defensive specialists and power platoon bats on benches around the major leagues. While Kawasaki has impressed with the Blue Jays, he doesn’t excel in any one area.
He’s not viewed as a strong defender or an above-average runner and he doesn’t hit well enough to be a viable pinch hitter. Take nothing away from Kawasaki, who has impressed as Reyes' replacement, but he may not have a role on this team's bench.
If the Blue Jays remove Kawasaki from the roster they could rely on Mark DeRosa and Maicer Izturis to continue playing second base, with Izturis getting most of the playing time and DeRosa starting against left-handed pitching.
In that scenario Emilio Bonifacio would be on the bench as a super-utility player. Unlike Kawasaki, the versatile Bonifacio has a skillset that’s suited for a bench role. His speed provides manager John Gibbons with flexibility late in games.
Removing Kawasaki from the roster would allow the Blue Jays to keep an eight-man bullpen. It’s a luxury they haven’t needed during their recent hot streak, but exposing an out-of-options pitcher such as Juan Perez or Dustin McGowan to waivers probably wouldn’t appeal to general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who seems comfortable with a 13-man pitching staff.
Remove a reliever from the roster:
Though the Blue Jays have had an eight-man bullpen for much of the year, they could alter the balance of their roster by sending a reliever to triple-A Buffalo or through waivers. Still, that’s easier said than done.
Juan Perez, Dustin McGowan and Esmil Rogers are among the out-of-options Blue Jays pitchers. They can’t be sent to the minor leagues without being exposed to waivers.
Even if the Blue Jays didn’t need Rogers in their rotation it’s doubtful they could sneak him through waivers. Good luck passing Perez through waivers now that he has pitched 10 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts. McGowan might slip through unclaimed because of his $1.5 million salary, but you never know.
Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar, Casey Janssen and Darren Oliver are presumably staying put. That leaves Neil Wagner and Aaron Loup, two pitchers with options who have both pitched well.
In other words there’s no obvious candidate to go unless a reliever requires a stint on the disabled list.
Going with a seven-man bullpen would enable the Blue Jays to keep both Bonifacio and Kawasaki in the short-term. This would give the team lots of flexibility to pinch hit and pinch run late in games, but it would reduce options on the pitching side.
Even if the Blue Jays elect to keep both Bonifacio and Kawasaki by cutting a reliever, it would just be delaying the inevitable need to make a decision on their infield depth. Once Brett Lawrie returns from his ankle injury, the team will face another tough call.
Remove Emilio Bonifacio from the roster:
It doesn’t seem likely that the Blue Jays would remove Bonifacio from the roster even though he's hitting just .209/.237/.316. The 28-year-old has historically offered value as a versatile speedster and it's conceivable that he can start adding value again.
The switch-hitting Bonifacio is out of options, which means he’d have to clear waivers before being sent to the minor leagues.
The Blue Jays could be hesitant to expose Bonifacio to waivers now, since he’s under team control as an arbitration eligible player through 2014. However, he’s earning $2.6 million this year and projects to make a similar amount in 2014, which means he must be considered an early non-tender candidate given his poor play.
It seems likely that the Blue Jays will keep Bonifacio since history suggests he can add value as a speedster who can play multiple positions.
Izturis has not matched his career norms on offence either, but he has been playing every day this month and has been hitting well of late. He's signed through 2015, another reason to believe he's not going anywhere.
The Blue Jays could also create roster space by placing an active infielder or reliever on the disabled list. While the team seems relatively healthy now, Blue Jays fans know well that injuries can occur at any time.
If the Blue Jays place a player on the 15-day disabled list or option someone to the minor leagues, they'll also need to create 40-man roster space when they activate Reyes from the 60-day DL. Lawrie and Ramon Ortiz are on the 15-day disabled list and could be moved to the 60-day DL to make room.
There's no easy answer for the Blue Jays, but having more than 25 qualified players is a good problem to have.