Roster move on the horizon
Jose Reyes is expected to make his return any day now and when he eventually does, the Blue Jays will find themselves faced with a very tough decision. Someone will have to become the odd-man out and the big question surrounding the team is whether it should keep an eight-man bullpen or go back to a four-man bench.
The ballclub entered play on Saturday afternoon having won nine consecutive games and after weeks of constant shuffling the roster was able to remain in tact for a decent amount of time.
It has long been assumed that infielder Munenori Kawasaki would be optioned to Triple-A Buffalo when Reyes is back but that’s not my pick and it’s very possible that my selection will surprise a lot of you.
Here’s a look at the candidates:
Munenori Kawasaki — He’s still the odds’-on favourite for a demotion despite having become somewhat of a cult figure in the city of Toronto. His skill set doesn’t translate particularly well to a back-up role because he isn’t very fast, has relatively average defence and doesn’t offer enough with the bat to become a strong candidate for pinch hit situations. But even still, if it were up to me I’d keep him around until Brett Lawrie returns from injury. Kawasaki could be used to give Reyes an occasional day off — which might be needed after a relatively short rehab stint — while also seeing some games at second base against right-handed pitching. The only way this could happen is if the Blue Jays go back to carrying just seven relievers. For the record, there’s no doubt in my mind that Kawasaki would have to go when Lawrie’s healthy but for now I think his spot on the team should be safe.
Emilio Bonifacio — Hard to envision a scenario where this ends up happening. Bonifacio has clearly struggled with the bat this season as evidenced by his .204 batting average but he has the ideal type of skill set to be a super utility player that every team likes to have. He has the ability to play the outfield and infield, which gives Gibbons some much-needed versatility off the bench. Perhaps just as important, Bonifacio would combine with Rajai Davis to give the Blue Jays a pair of stolen base threats off the bench that can be used in close games.
Maicer Izturis and Mark DeRosa — Neither player is going anywhere so there’s not much sense talking about this. Izturis has a three-year deal and picked up his level of play during the past month while DeRosa has proven to be valuable against left-handed pitching.
Neil Wagner — Wagner does have an option remaining on his contract so he could become a candidate to be sent down but it would make very little sense to do so. The sample size is still incredibly small but so far Wagner has proven to be a valuable arm that can be used in middle relief. He has allowed just one run in 11 innings this season and comes with an overpowering arm — even if his fastball is a little bit too straight at times. Wagner also has eight strikeouts compared to just three walks over that span and has pitched well enough to deserve a spot on the team.
Juan Perez — Perez is out of options on his contract and the only way he can be sent down is by being exposed to waivers. There doesn’t appear to be any doubt that another team would take a flyer on Perez if that ended up being the case. Just like Wagner, the sample size is still very small, but Perez has yet to allow an earned run in his 10 innings of work this season. He has struck out 10 while allowing just three walks and five hits over that span. Perhaps most important, though, is his ability to throw multiple innings at a time. In order to be the final reliever in a bullpen, it’s important that pitcher can be stretched out when that type of need arises. All five of Perez’s appearances this season have been for more than one inning.
And finally my pick for who the odd-man out should be…
Dustin McGowan — This wouldn’t be a popular choice for many Blue Jays fans but there are a lot of factors at play here. McGowan has appeared in just three games this season and as yet to earn a defined role in the bullpen — he’s arguably the only reliever that falls into that category if Perez can be considered the long guy. The club has no choice but to monitor his overall workload after shoulder surgeries limited him to just 21 innings from 2009-12. It’s true that McGowan has appeared in back-to-back games this season but it was in an emergency situation and it’s something the club would like to avoid more often than not.
The problem here is that McGowan is out of options on his contract and would have to clear waivers before being assigned to a Minor League team. Personally, that’s a risk I’d be willing to take. McGowan is earning $1.5 million this season and has an additional $1.5 million coming his way in 2014 with a $500,000 buyout on his 2015 $4-million option. It’s certainly possible another team would take a gamble and pick up that remaining salary but even if that were to happen I don’t think it would be the worst thing in the world. It would cut a little bit of salary and more importantly open up a valuable roster spot. There’s also at least a decent chance McGowan goes unclaimed.
If the Blue Jays were in a rebuilding mode I’d have no problem at all with keeping McGowan around. It appears his days as a starting pitcher have come to an end but in theory he could still become a valuable reliever. The problem is, in order to find his previous form, McGowan needs more consistent work than he’s getting right now in Toronto. Another assignment to Buffalo would be the perfect scenario to be put on a regular throwing schedule and the organization can take an extended look at his current abilities. It’s just simply not possible to experiment like that at the big-league level when every game is important to getting back into the race. If another team steps in and takes McGowan first, then so be it. McGowan could still be good, but this isn’t Chris Carpenter all over again.