August 2011

The Lawrie fallout

Brett Lawrie will make his Major League debut tonight in Baltimore but unfortunately I won’t be there to see it. I’ll be back in Toronto attending the wedding reception for my good friend and former roommate. Unfortunate timing but have no fear http://bluejays.com will still have all the news covered. 

Lawrie will be having a press conference later this afternoon so check back Friday evening to see his reaction and expectations for the rest of the season. Also, don’t forget there’s plenty of coverage from yesterday on the site in what might have been my busiest day on the job to date.

There was Travis Snider’s reaction to the news and Carlos Villanueva going on the DL in an extended notebook. There’s also a sidebar on Alex Anthopoulos talking about the decision to bring Lawrie up. Finally, there’s the game story on the 12-inning affair that went down as another tough loss for the bullpen. You can also find me on twitter @gregorMLB

I’ll be back in action on Monday. In the meantime, here are some of the quotes from yesterday’s events:

Travis Snider

On his reaction to the move…

“It’s a business and a decision had to be made. Brett Lawrie is well deserving of the opportunity to come up here and I’m excited for him to get it. But at the same time, personally, you want to be on the other end and be the guy that gets to stay.

“But those are the decisions that aren’t in my control and I just look to keep getting better.”

On his season so far…

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated when these kind of things happen. But when you put it all in perspective, it’s not a decision that I control. I can play  better and that’s the bottom line so moving forward that’s the mindset I’ve got to keep.”

On possibly being back when rosters expand in September…

“I’d like to think so but nothing is guaranteed. My focus is going to be going home for a couple of days and getting my mind right then going to Vegas with the right attitude and doing what I got to do to continue to progress as a player and a person.”

On what he has to work on…

“I think it’s getting back to the routine I had established when I first got here. I think the last week or two it has been off and on, inconsistent, and the guy to staying here is being consistent.”

On this being the fourth time he has been optioned…

“I don’t say it gets easier. As a competitor, you never want to hear somebody tell you you’re not good enough to be on a team when I feel like I’ve helped this team win some ballgames. But at the same time I try to keep it all in perspective, as a young man it’s part of maturing, understandign what you can control and what you can’t.”

Alex Anthopoulos

On deciding who got sent down…

“Player performance is really what it came down to. Both players we see as having a chance to be here long term and have a chance to be part of this core. Ultimately, either decision we would have made neither player would have been happy or want to be sent down. But when you look at the numbers and the performances to date they both haven’t done all that great the last week or so … on the season, overall, Eric has played a littlebit better than Travis and again we had to make a decision but we could have gone the other way as well.

“This isn’t about giving playing time to someone who isn’t going to be here for the long term whether it was a Juan Rivera before or a Corey Patterson. Eric Thames is going to continue to get the at-bats and Edwin Encarnacion will continue to get bats at DH and he has a club option on next year that we still have two months of the season, want to continue to evaluate him.

“It was very close. This isn’t about going down and making adjustments, or swing changes, or anything like that at all. In a lot of ways it’s a good problem to have that you have two young players that are good.

“If Edwin Encarnacion hadn’t turned around and played the way he has the month of June and July … then I think he would have lost the playing time and been back on the bench like he was really a lot of May. That would have opened up the DH spot.”

On Brett Lawrie…

“We wanted to find out about Brett Lawrie sooner rather than later. We wanted to get him some August at-bats to get a little bit more of a read on him so he deserved to be up here.

“We didn’t have a predetermined number (of games)  at all. When he first came back from the injury, he was a little bit slow in terms of getting his timing back swinging the bat. Even defensively, he had gotten into some bad habits that he had earlier in the year so we sent Mike Mordecai in to get some work with him.

“We try to put these players in the best position to have success when they come up here. You know you’re not going to be 100 percent sure. Like I always say, the likelihood, with all players they’re likely going to have to go back down but at least you want to do the best you can developmentally you can to prepare them for being up here.

“Hopefully now it’s one of those things with Brad where he can stay up here for the entire year.”

 John Farrell

On his club not having been able to go on an extending winning streak this season…

“The depth of the rotation, if you’re to point to one area, that’s where the inconsistencies have come from maybe more than other areas of our club. That’s not to be critical of any one individual that’s just to say that that’s the area that allows you to sustain any kind of winning streak and give you the opportunity to win on days your offense might not be clicking.

“With respect to the young players it’s still not only about educating but creating an expectation of winning and building a culture that this is what we expect to do inside of a game and execute what the game is telling us at the moment. But I wouldn’t put it on just youth as being the reason we’re sitting here two games above .500.”

The Lawrie dilemma

The Brett Lawrie watch continues this week with lots of rumours that the young third baseman could make his Major League debut as early as Friday in Baltimore.

There no longer appears to be any doubt that Lawrie is ready to make the jump to Toronto. He went 1-for-3 with an RBI single for Triple-A Las Vegas on Tuesday afternoon and is now batting .342 (13-for-38) in his past 10 games.

Lawrie also has two home runs, seven RBIs, three doubles and eight walks over that same span. The native of Langley, British Columbia, appears to have regained the form he had before fracturing his left hand in a game on May 31.

“First of all, the fact that he’s back playing, yeah that’s great,” Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. “We haven’t changed off of our goal of getting him at-bats, games played, prior to September.

“Whether that happens this weekend or when we get off the road, whenever that might be, we’re all looking forward to getting him inserted in with this young group but we haven’t pin pointed an exact day.”

His imminent promotion does present a few problems to the Blue Jays. The organization — and the fan base — are eager to see what Lawrie can do on the main stage but how soon he can be inserted into the lineup remains a bit of a question mark.

Lawrie is the future starting third baseman — that much is clear. His arrival will push Jose Bautista back to right field and would likely relegate Eric Thames to designated hitter.

The problem is that the Blue Jays are currently getting a lot of production out of Edwin Encarnacion in the DH slot. The 28-year-old is coming off arguably his most successful month with the organization after hitting .313 (30-for-96) with four home runs, 14 RBIs and nine doubles in 25 games.

Under normal circumstances, those numbers wouldn’t even come close to potentially losing a starting job. But, then again, these aren’t normal circumstances.

Thames has played well this season (.285, five home runs, 22 RBIs) and deserves every day at-bats while the club continues to monitor whether the California native fits into their long-term plans.

Travis Snider has begun to struggle after a hot streak at the plate following his promotion to the Majors. The 23-year-old hasn’t even been in Toronto for a month, though, and he also needs regular playing time to work through any problems he may be experiencing.

That leaves Encarnacion as the odd-man out even with the impressive numbers in July. The easy solution would be to find a contending team interested in adding another bat to its lineup. But I think it’s safe to assume general manager Alex Anthopoulos explored those scenarios before the Non-Waiver trade deadline.

I originally thought Pittsburgh would be an ideal fit. That was before the Pirates added Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick on July 31st — essentially taking them out of the running. The Indians are another team that could potentially use another player who has the ability to start at 1B/3B but their DH spot is locked down by Travis Hafner.

“The most important point here is that we’re getting to the point with our roster that performance, and how you go out and play, and what you do inbetween the lines directly impacts that decision,” Farrell said when asked about the competition for playing time.

“You’d hope to go out and maintain the focus on what you can control and that’s every at-bat and every play and let that work speak and affect the decision.”

It’s possible a team steps up before the end of the month and makes a play for Encarnacion but what do the Blue Jays do in the meantime?

Keep Lawrie in the Minor Leagues where he doesn’t have anything left to prove? Bench Encarnacion even though he is hitting as well as anyone on the team? Bench or send down Eric Thames even though he has been out hitting Snider? Send down Snider for a second time even though he has only been in the Majors for less than a month?

Personally, I think the only realistic scenario is benching Encarnacion and trying to find opportunities to insert him into the lineup against left-handed pitching until/if a deal can be worked out with another team.

That may cause some concern to Anthopoulos, though, because Encarnacion was guaranteed every day at-bats with the organization when he signed during the off-season and the Toronto GM does not like to break his word.

Last year, there was lots of talk about why John Buck was playing over rookie J.P. Arencibia. During an off-season event with season-ticket holders, Anthopoulos explained a similar promise was made to Buck and by honouring his word it improves the Blue Jays reputuation around the league with agents. It’s possible the club could face a similar problem this year.

In the meantime, Lawrie and his .352 average with 18 home runs and 61 RBIs sits and waits for the next move.

Here are some leftovers from today’s media scrum with Farrell:

On competing with Rays for third place:

“We set out in Spring Training to build on the momentum from a year ago. We didn’t pinpoint a spot in the standings as a significance or something that would reflect that. But certainly this is a series that we come in knowing that they’re the next team ahead of us and I think it would be a very good step forward not only to play well in this series but in the final two months of the season.”

On Jesse Litsch working out of the bullpen:

“I think right now we want to take a good long look at the role he is in currently. To take advantage of his weapons against right-handed hitters that he has been very successful at, these two months will give us a more clear picture at where he’s best suited.”

On balance of Blue Jays new lineup:

“When you go up against a lineup that has the ability to counter balance a right-handed starter with a number of left-handers it puts a different stress level on the guy on the mound.

“I think the more you can get away from that run of one-sidedness with a lineup when you force that pitcher to go back and forth with their approach you have the potential of more mistakes being made.

“Ideally, you throw that in with some aggressiveness on the basepaths, different things for a pitcher to contend with, that’s all part of the diversity we’d hope to accomplish.”

On Brett Lawrie:

“When he comes he’s coming to play third base. That hasn’t changed and when he comes, Jose is going back to right field. Now, that creates a little bit of a flood in the outfield. When that decision is made to bring him, we’ve got to make a counter move to free that spot up.”

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