With Devon Travis on the shelf for the foreseeable future, the Toronto Blue Jays suddenly find the most significant hole on their roster at second base.
While Ryan Goins has been unusually clutch in a small sample, and Darwin Barney remains likeable as a dude, Travis’s scorching hot May underlined how important he was to the team’s most successful stretch, and how much his absence means. If the Jays ever hope to crawl over the large pile of .500-ish teams into legitimate playoff contention they could use some offence at second base.
Two names for potential replacements have stood out amongst the murmurs and whispers thus far: the Phillies’ Howie Kendrick, and the Athletics’ Jed Lowrie. While there isn’t much more to the idea of them being acquired than wishes and rumours, it’s worth comparing and contrasting the two to see who might best fit the Jays’ needs.
Kendrick: .290/.334/.419, 5.3 %BB rate, 17.3 % K rate, 97 HR, 119 SB in 5589 career plate appearances
Lowrie: .260/.329/.406, 9.1 % BB rate, 16.3 % K rate, 75 HR, 7 SB in 3463 career plate appearances
Kendrick came to the big leagues with the Angels on the stellar reputation of his bat, and was even identified as a potential future batting champ before he played his first MLB game. Over his 12-year career, Kendrick has never quite elevated to those heights, but he has managed to remain a respectably above average offensive contributor (107 wRC+). Last season was one of his worst offensive showings, though, as he posted a 91 wRC+, fuelled in part by a BABIP which dropped to .301, whereas his career BABIP has generally run very hot, at .340.
Lowrie was generally less heralded, though he entered the league as a Red Sox prospect in 2008. He’d served as a respectable bench player for a significant part of those early seasons, and didn’t truly become a regular until moving on to Houston in 2012. That year, he posted 2.5 WAR and rebranded himself as a legitimate everyday player in 2013 with the A’s. For his career, he has a 101 wRC+.
The switch-hitting Lowrie doesn’t possess a lot of speed and slips behind Kendrick in terms of power, while Kendrick’s splits against lefties and righties are almost even.
Both Kendrick and Lowrie are remarkable as much for their versatility as they are for their acumen with the glove. Both have played all over the diamond throughout their careers, though their baseball cards probably list them as “2B.”
Lowrie likely has the more stellar reputation, and his journeys around the diamond could be considered “versatility.” Kendrick, on the other hand, seems to get bumped from one position to another when a better defensive option arrives.
Lowrie has played most of his career as a shortstop, though he has essentially transitioned to second base almost full-time over the past three seasons. Kendrick spent most of his career at second, though in the last two seasons, he’s played more in left field, along with some fill-in work at third and first base.
Kendrick’s defensive metrics at second were actually quite good early in his career, but as he has moved around frequently in-season, there’s enough noise to make it hard to decipher how good or bad he’s been in recent seasons. Still, at second, he’s posted a +13 defensive runs saved for his career at the keystone.
Lowrie, meanwhile, is a -11 in that same category at second, and a -36 for his career at short.
COST AND CONTROL
Kendrick will hit free agency this winter, after finishing up an under-market two-year, $20 million deal. The Jays would be faced with paying the pro-rated remainder of this season’s $10 million salary, though the Phillies don’t seem like a franchise that must dump salary at all costs.
Lowrie is currently earning $6.5 million, and has a $6 million team option for 2018, with a $1 million buyout. All of those numbers seem like the sort of obligations that the Oakland A’s would rather not be saddled with in a losing season.
Both teams are rebuilding, and there should be some expectation that some significant level of prospect capital would be needed to land them, though Kendrick seems as though he may be considered a more premium player requiring a more high-end return.
The question is: Would the Jays see the potential commitment for 2018 as an asset in Lowrie’s case? Or could he serve as insurance in case Travis needs more time?
Either Lowrie and Kendrick would unquestionably help the Jays over the last half of the season, which leads us into the unknowable questions of which teams are asking for how much, and how motivated the Jays are to move early.
Here’s a not so subtle suggestion: The Jays shouldn’t choose between these players, but rather, they should go after both.
With Kendrick’s ability to play left field (the club’s other glaring need), and Lowrie’s ability to be an average offensive player while filling in wherever needed in the infield, the Jays could significantly lengthen the lineup and provide roster flexibility. If the price is right.