In typical Alex Anthopoulos fashion, the Blue Jays had a busy day of roster machinations on Friday. According to the team’s official transaction page, Henry Blanco was designated for assignment (DFA) while Anthony Gose was optioned to AAA the day before. This opened up two sports on the Jays 25-man roster and one spot on the 40-man roster. With the Henry Blanco era officially over, the Blue Jays recalled Josh Thole from AAA to take his role as the Dickey Catcher ™. In addition, Andy LaRoche had his contract selected (added to the 40-man roster) from Buffalo and was called up to take the spot of Gose and serve as a third base option with Lawrie out.
This removes Blanco and his putrid .240 wOBA/45 wRC+ from the 40-man and opens the job to someone who can actually hit a bit. Thole is a career .295/85 hitter who provides almost no power (.072 ISO) and posted a dismal .290/60 last year while fighting a concussion. However, he put up a .327/103 and .307/94 in the two years prior. Thole has hit .395/140 (.188 ISO) with a generous .345 BABIP in Buffalo. He is a definite defensive downgrade but he has caught Dickey previously with reasonable success and the bat should easily cover his deficiencies value-wise. The LaRoche recall (.367/121 in AAA) offers the Jays somebody who can actually throw across the diamond, unlike Izturis, who has to use the carpet frequently.
After the game – a tidy dismantling of the Rangers, where the bullpen retired the last 15 in a row – the Blue Jays optioned RHP Todd Redmond to AAA and activated the oft-injured and long-awaited Dustin McGowan from the 60-day Disabled List and placed him on the 25-man roster. However, a 40-man roster spot is not currently available for McGowan at the moment and the corresponding move is not yet official.
As my friend and fellow blogger @Mentoch of Blue Jays Plus points out, it would seem logical that Evan Crawford is the primary DFA candidate given his miserable 10.4% walk rate (combined A+ and AA) and disappointing 17.0% strikeout rate (AA only). Languishing in AA at the age of 26 (#AAby26 – hat tip to those who get this reference) and stuck behind three lefties on the big-league staff and a right-hander with reverse splits (Cecil, Loup, Oliver and Delabar respectively), there just is no opportunity for him to seize a role on this team.
The Jays also signed ex-Yankee staff ace and sinkerballer Chien-Ming Wang to a Minor League contract and he will be added to the rosters and start on Tuesday in Chicago against the White Sox. I do not love the matchup in that park, which while down this year, has been consistently in the top third of the league in park factors for runs and home runs since 2001 (breadth of ESPN dataset). However, this effect may be mitigated somewhat by the fact that the White Sox rank 29th in wOBA and wRC+, 28th in walk rate, 27th in ISO and 23rd in strikeout rate. In terms of batted balls, the White Sox rank fifth in line drive and flyball rates, while ranking 29th in ground ball rate. A .280 BABIP and the line drives would indicate that the Sox have been somewhat unlucky, but the flyballs would account for at least some portion of the depression. Wang has not really walked or struck out anybody in 58 AAA innings this year (4.2%/10.5%), but he will keep the ball on the ground (career 59.1 % groundball rate) and with any luck the defense will not fail on him.
UPDATE (June 11, 2013):
Stats from MLB, ESPN and Fangraphs. Roster information from http://www.mlbdepthcharts.com. Hat-tip to @mentoch of http://www.bluejaysplus.com & http://bjppodcast.blogspot.ca for suggesting Evan Crawford as a DFA candidate
The Blue Jays offense was simply unable to generate any short of threat against Jose Quintana of the White Sox last night. Temporary Jose Reyes replacement Munenori Kawasaki, Edwin Encarnacion and Rajai Davis (including a double for the Blue Jays only extra-base hit) each had two hits on the night (although one of Encarnacion’s singles came off reliever Jesse Crain). Encarnacion and Kawasaki drew bases on balls from Quintana. Six hits, two walks, no runs – that was the sum total of the Blue Jays offense last night. Obviously they lost the game, by a score of 7-0 as J.A. Happ turned in what will likely be one of several clunkers from the fifth starter spot on the season.
However, this is not about Happ. It is about the offense – this woeful, anaemic, sputtering offense. The seemingly vaunted Blue Jays offense has averaged merely 3.6 runs per game (24th in MLB). There have been some big games in there, too – a 10-run game and two 8-run games. The Blue Jays have scored 54 runs, 26 of them (48.1%) have come in three games; in the other games, the Jays are averaging 2.3 runs per game. That is a mark that would put them 29th in MLB ahead of only the pitiful Miami Marlins, who are essentially a glorified Triple-A team at this point. Since Jose Reyes went down in a heap at second base last Friday night, the Jays have scored a mere 12 runs in five games, including the shutout last night (2.4 runs per game). All the blame for the struggles cannot be placed on the absence of Jose Reyes, although he was clearly the Blue Jays’ best offensive player in the early going. Jose Bautista has also been out of the lineup, since Monday, with back spasms and an ear infection. In the three games he has missed so far, The Blue Jays have scored eight runs (2.7 runs per game). Awful.
What offense has occurred is primarily being carried by two men – J.P. Arencibia and Colby Rasmus. Arencibia is off to a roaring start this season with a .361 wOBA in 57 plate appearances. Unfortunately, this is primarily driven by the five home runs he has hit (.339 ISO). Sporting a putrid trio of a 263 OBP, 1.8 BB% and a 35.1 K%, his success simply cannot be expected to continue. Rasmus has been another all-or-nothing hitter for the Blue Jays this year with four home runs of his own, (.375 wOBA, .326 ISO). These numbers are further driven up by a .368 BABIP, unsustainable for someone with his speed level (.268 career). He has mustered a more respectable .314 OBP; however strikeouts have been a major problem for him as well. Rasmus is walking 9.8% of the time, above his career rate, but this is coupled with an absurd 45.1 K%. Obviously a small sample is being analyzed here (51 PA) and regression towards his career value will occur, but what Rasmus is showing is still a cause for concern. It is enough of a concern to shield him from left-handed pitchers – meaning his powerful bat was not in the lineup tonight against Quintana and he was pinch-hit for by Rajai Davis in the seventh inning the night prior.
Unfortunately, Adam Lind suffers from even worse split issues (the worst hitter by far against southpaws since 2010), and many situations are arising where these players need to be pinch-hit for. This is where Bautista’s presence on the roster is causing a problem. The Blue Jays currently have the standard roster setup of 12 pitchers and four bench players. One of the players is backup catcher Henry Blanco, who must remain available to replace Arencibia and who wields a bat for little more than effect (career 65 wRC+). This leaves three men on the bench who are available to pinch-hit. However, despite repeated clams of Bautista returning to the lineup the following day, he has been unable to do so. This leaves two men on the bench. One must be kept behind in case of injuries, so the Blue Jays have extremely limited options. Casper Wells, an intriguing lefty-masher claimed off waivers from Seattle, was designated for assignment in order to place Ramon Ortiz (who moped up nicely giving 3.1 IP behind Happ last night) on the 40-man roster.
This is making it painfully apparent that something needs to happen with Bautista. He either needs to return to the lineup, or be placed on the disabled list. Since he last appeared in Sunday’s game, his DL stint can be back-dated to Monday, meaning that three of the required 15 days have already elapsed. Since Gibbons has been “unsure” about Bautista’s ability to pinch-hit, I am wondering if the ability to back-date a potential DL stint has been part of the reason. Using Bautista as a pinch-hitter would require him to miss three more days than he already has. The Blue Jays are seeing Andy Pettitte in the first game of the weekend Yankee series and the Yankees carry Boone Logan, a southpaw who absolutely wipes out left-handed hitters (.309 wOBA against) in their bullpen.
Without depth on the bench, the Blue Jays run the high risk of being exposed late and losing one of the few bright spots in their depleted lineup when a lefty starts. The Jays have to make a decision on Bautista tonight. Hopefully he is in the lineup and this rant is largely rendered moot, but if not, I expect a DL stint, because the Blue Jays can no longer afford to wait.
Welp. This post became largely moot in hurry. Good news (I hope).