Nicholson-Smith: Finding infield help a challenge

Munenori Kawasaki has been reinstated from the paternity list. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

It happens just about every year. A starting shortstop gets injured early in the season, and his team contemplates alternatives at a time that the free agent market is barren and trade options are limited.

The Toronto Blue Jays are considering outside solutions in the aftermath of Jose Reyes’ severe left ankle sprain, but general manager Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t sound enthused about the options available in trades this early in the year. He suggested Monday that a deal remains unlikely because “of what the asks have been on some of the players,” Shi Davidi reported.

There’s not much available in free agency at this time, either, and free agent infielders such as Ryan Theriot and Adam Kennedy don’t appear to be on the Blue Jays’ radar. Never one to shy away from the waiver wire, Anthopoulos could always make a claim. Any shortstop who hits waivers at this time will have shortcomings of his own, however.

Instead, it seems likely that the Blue Jays will rely on internal options, namely Munenori Kawasaki and Maicer Izturis. While Kawasaki has already started endearing himself to Toronto fans, this is a player who posted a .459 OPS in 61 games with the Seattle Mariners last year. In other words, he hit better than your average pitcher, but not by much.

In recent history teams facing early-season shortstop injuries have mostly relied on players already within the organization, hoping for the best and sometimes getting it. Here’s a look at how some teams handled early-season injuries to their starting shortstops in recent years:

Rafael Furcal, 2013 Cardinals – The Cardinals lost Furcal for the season earlier this spring, when he underwent Tommy John surgery. In his place the Cardinals are relying on Pete Kozma, the 25-year-old shortstop who hit surprisingly well toward the end of the 2012 season.

Alex Gonzalez, 2012 Brewers – The Brewers relied on an assortment of players, including waiver claim Cody Ransom and trade acquisition Jean Segura, after losing Gonzalez early last May.

Ruben Tejada, 2012 Mets – Tejada missed much of May and June with a quad injury, prompting the club to rely on a variety of backups including Omar Quintanilla and Ronny Cedeno.

J.J. Hardy, 2011 Orioles – Hardy missed most of the season’s first month two years ago, and the Orioles relied on Robert Andino to fill in. The move worked out, as Andino hit .309/.404/.395/.799.

Jimmy Rollins, 2010 Phillies – Rollins appeared in just 20 games during the first half of the season, and the Phillies replaced him with Wilson Valdez, Juan Castro and Brian Bocock. The trio didn’t do much at the plate, but the below-average production didn’t prevent the Phillies from reaching the NLCS.

Stephen Drew, 2009 Diamondbacks – Augie Ojeda filled in when Stephen Drew hit the disabled list at the beginning of the 2009 season. Ojeda surpassed his career OPS by more than 100 points for Arizona that year, matching Drew’s .752 mark while playing shortstop.

Troy Tulowitzki, 2008 Rockies – With Tulowitzki sidelined, the Rockies turned to Clint Barmes, who provided a Tulowitzki-like .319/.352/.541/.893 batting line in Tulo’s absence. The Rockies finished 74-88, however.

Derek Jeter, 2003 Yankees – When Jeter missed the first month of the 2003 season, the Yankees replaced him with Erick Almonte and Enrique Wilson. Neither Almonte nor Wilson did much at the plate, but Jeter had a vintage season once he returned. The Yankees reached to the World Series, losing to the Marlins.

With Reyes under contract through 2017, the Blue Jays are presumably going to focus on short-term solutions. The club could make a minor trade, a waiver claim, or continue relying on Kawasaki. If recent history teaches us anything, it’s that teams don’t generally do anything drastic this early in the year.

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