Jays Should Send Down A Reliever, Not Kawasaki
Not too long ago, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Munenori Kawasaki would be the odd man out when All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes returned from the disabled list.
Talent, most times, wins out when it comes to roster decisions. And Kawasaki, as much fun as he has been, certainly isn't one of the Blue Jays' top assets on the active roster -- plus, he has minor league options, making him a strong candidate to head down to Buffalo when Reyes returns. But, he is strongly backed by players, has done a better job than anyone could have expected, and I don't think Toronto should be rolling with an eight-man bullpen.
Also, to Kawasaki's credit, he has a .340-plus on-base percentage. Chemistry, and players who are considered "good clubhouse guys," is an impossible thing to measure, but it absolutely doesn't hurt when you have it.
With eight men in the 'pen, you run the risk of guys going cold. Sure, it leaves plenty of time for those guys to recover, but they need reps in game action more so than in side sessions. And when a reliever isn't consistently getting into games, it's hard to expect much from him when his name is called upon. Dustin McGowan, anyone?
Kawasaki is not the player I would send down, although I wouldn't fault the Blue Jays if that's the direction the organization decided to go. There are a few options here -- Kawasaki included -- but, for me, it has to be one of the relievers.
The only reason the lefty will find himself in this debate is because he has options, but he's not going to go down, and he shouldn't, either. Loup has been dynamite this season after pleasantly surprising everyone in 2012.
Casey Janssen, Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar have received much of the praise for stabilizing Toronto's bullpen, but Loup has been fantastic, too. Loup's last 16 appearances read like this: 18 innings, 1 run, 0 walks, 17 strikeouts, 0.50 ERA, while holding hitters to a .186/.219/.254 slash line. He has allowed one extra-base hit to a left-hander this year. Enough said. He stays put.
In 31 innings between Triple-A and the majors, Perez has a 0.58 ERA with 35 strikeouts, while holding opposing hitters to a .171 batting average. He has thrown one-plus innings in five of his six appearances with the Blue Jays, and sports a .439 OPS against. Sure, the sample is small, but Perez can be used to eat innings and, if I were the Blue Jays, I'd ride him while he's hot
Perez is a hard-throwing lefty, who has gotten results and is out of options. There is little doubt he would get claimed if the Blue Jays attempted to pass him through waivers. If his production falls off a cliff at any point, he can be designated for assignment, and Toronto can take that chance then. I don't think it should happen now.
The flame-throwing righty has done nothing to play himself off the roster, but the fact that he has options and the Blue Jays have a crowded bullpen makes him a candidate to go. Wagner's sample with Toronto is also small, but he has allowed one run in 11 innings, and has a fastball that can overpower hitters. Certainly a valuable commodity to turn to once your starter's day is over.
Wagner dominated down in Buffalo, and Toronto's bullpen would be a little thin with right-handers if he was shown the door, too. Based on his performance, he should stay. Based on the fact that he has options, and can be summoned back if needed, makes him my choice to go. Like I said, it doesn't mean he needs to stay down for long, and it would also put some pressure on the next guy to prove his worth, which has to be done if he's going to stay on the roster. Toronto needs to know what it has with McGowan.
I'll be honest, until MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm wrote a post on the weekend advocating for McGowan as the guy who should be sent down, it never even crossed my mind. I think Gregor makes an interesting case as to why he should go, but after thinking it over, I don't exactly agree.
McGowan doesn't have options but with his guaranteed salary and injury history, there is a decent chance he could clear waivers. As Gregor said, he also has no defined role and the last two times the team has used him, it has been in extremely low-leverage situations. He hasn't added any value to the team since his return to the big leagues. But I would put the onus on him to show his value, especially after he's (finally) healthy. I understand the Blue Jays can't push McGowan too much, but he can surely make more than the two appearances he has since June 9. He's a hard-throwing righty -- his fastball is averaging 95-96 mph, per Brooksbaseball.net -- that the Blue Jays have waited on for years, so why not let him show what he can do?
If McGowan falters, he can be designated for assignment at a later date. If he can't handle the workload and experiences too much discomfort in his arm, he can be placed on the disabled list, which would allow the club to call Wagner, or someone else, back up. If I'm the Blue Jays, I just wouldn't be ready to throw in the towel now when there were more obvious times to do so in the past.
Since the season has been turned around, the Blue Jays are certainly at a point where they should be fielding their best team possible. But having depth at Buffalo, as we have seen this year, is a very good thing to have. For me, it's really between Wagner and Kawasaki due to the fact that they have options. That matters.
Kawasaki doesn't have to strictly be a bench player when Reyes is back, as the team could start him at second base vs. right-handers -- Kawasaki has hit .258/.357/.375/.732 vs. them over 120 at-bats -- with Maicer Izturis at third until Brett Lawrie returns. Izturis can play second vs. lefties with Mark DeRosa at third base, and Emilio Bonifacio, who has frankly been awful this year, used as a super-sub and late-game option off the bench with his game-changing speed. One thing I do trust is for manager John Gibbons to make it work -- he is very good at constructing his lineup and is not afraid to juggle it around depending on the matchup. Gibbons puts his team in the best possible position to succeed more often than not.
When Lawrie returns, Kawasaki's days are likely numbered. But, for now, make McGowan prove his worth, don't risk losing Perez while he's hot, and make the safe decision and send Wagner back to Buffalo. This isn't about performance in the case of Wagner, it's about keeping depth. The case can certainly be made for Kawasaki, but Wagner is the guy for me.