Roster Management: Jays Have Decisions To Make
With third baseman Brett Lawrie's rehab assignment entering its final stages, and Melky Cabrera eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list this weekend, the Blue Jays' lineup is nearing a return to full strength. Cabrera (left knee tendinitis), who has tested his knee by running and participating in batting practice, will go on a rehab assignment, manager John Gibbons said, but the left fielder should be ready to return shortly after the All-Star break.
Lawrie, who went from day-to-day to out well over a month with an ankle injury he sustained at the end of May, joined Triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday and will play an undisclosed amount of games before returning to the Blue Jays. He's getting close, though, and even if Toronto doesn't bring Lawrie back before the break, a return next week is inevitable.
His bat hasn't performed the way many expected this season, but he can only improve on his .209/.268/.374 batting line, and he provides the team with elite defense at the hot corner. Lawrie has played eight games across four affiliates, hitting .333 over 24 at-bats. Toronto is still kicking the tires on experimenting with Lawrie at second base, which is where he played with the Bisons on Tuesday, so that will also be something to monitor.
Who goes when Lawrie and Cabrera return?
Munenori Kawasaki is the obvious choice to be sent down once Lawrie is back. Kawasaki has been a useful piece to keep around even after shortstop Jose Reyes returned from the DL with his ability to play second and get on base at a respectable rate against right-handers, but his time is coming to an end. The odd man out once Cabrera is ready, however, is not as clear, but it's a safe bet it will be an arm that's bumped off the roster.
Dustin McGowan, who has been quite impressive in a limited sample since returning to the Blue Jays, and received a vote of confidence from Gibbons over the weekend, isn't going anywhere. And unless a trade happens, it's ditto for a slew of others, including Casey Janssen, Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, Darren Oliver, and Aaron Loup. Assuming the bench remains intact after Kawasaki's demotion, that leaves Neil Wagner, Todd Redmond, and Juan Perez as the most expendable pieces.
The Blue Jays, however, need Redmond -- or someone else -- to make one start before the break, and it looks like he'll get the ball after allowing two runs on one hit over five innings against the Twins on Sunday. After that, because of the off-days next week with the break, the Blue Jays can realign their rotation so they don't need a fifth starter until July 23. But until the team says otherwise, Redmond is temporarily part of the rotation, and would be slated to get that start. A lot can change, mind you, and Toronto could option Redmond and have another stopgap fill his void. But, if he pitches well his next start, he could stick around until someone is ready to permanently take his spot.
Since injured starters J.A. Happ and Brandon Morrow have yet to go out on a rehab assignment, it won't be either of them.
Another scenario: If Redmond were to get bombed his next start and Gibbons is forced to tax the bullpen, the Blue Jays could option him and call up a reliever for the final game before the break, and keep whoever that might be (Brad Lincoln?) up until the 23rd when they would need another starter. There are certainly a few options at play -- but Redmond will eventually be sent back down, we just don't know when.
If Redmond sticks, and Lawrie replaces Kawasaki, it would appear that Wagner or Perez would be the most likely candidates to go down for Cabrera.
One thing to note on Cabrera: The 28-year-old, along with a number of other players, could face suspension for their connection to the now-defunct Biogenesis anti-aging clinic. A player can not be suspended for the same offense twice, but if Cabrera is suspended as a second-time offender, he can not play during the appeal process, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal wrote in a recent column.
ESPN's Outside The Lines reported Tuesday that suspensions could come down after the All-Star break. That could be anytime, but if Cabrera is suspended, which would cost him 100 games, the Blue Jays would be without him for the remainder of the season.
If Cabrera avoids suspension and Toronto parts with a reliever once he's ready to rejoin the team, we could be looking at a decision between Wagner and Perez.
For all the love that Wagner is getting, and it has been warranted, Perez has been the better pitcher. Perez also doesn't have minor league options left -- Wagner does -- and it would seem like an unnecessary risk exposing him to waivers with the way he has been pitching.
The 34-year-old Perez appeared to be nothing more than roster filler when a spot opened up for him at the end of May, but has gone 11 appearances and 18 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run since making his Blue Jays debut May 29. Perez has struck out more than 30% of the batters he has faced, has a groundball rate a tick under 60% -- higher than any reliever on the team -- and is already 0.7 Wins Above Replacement, per Fangraphs.com, which is very high considering his limited sample. The only Blue Jays pitchers with a higher WAR than Perez are Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Delabar, Cecil, and Janssen.
Perez dominated at Buffalo, too, and his stuff certainly passes the eye test.
Between Buffalo and Toronto, Perez has allowed two runs over 39 2/3 innings -- good for a 0.45 ERA -- while striking out 46 and walking 11. He has held opponents to a .161 batting average thanks in large part to wipeout slider which has been virtually unhittable.
According to Brooksbaseball.net, Perez has thrown 118 sliders with the Blue Jays and allowed one hit. He has struck out 14 batters in 29 at-bats ending in the pitch, and has gone more than one inning in more than half his outings. Perez has been very valuable.
A couple setbacks, a Cabrera suspension and/or a trade or two, as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches, could easily change things. But this roster is going to look different, one way or another, very soon.
Kawasaki is not going to make the cut. And while Wagner has pitched well, he could be on borrowed time, too. As surprising as it seems, Perez could stick around. And, for now at least, there is little reason why he shouldn't.