Should The Jays Send Munenori Kawasaki Down?

Analysis

Last night it was announced that Jose Reyes will be activated in time for tomorrow afternoon’s game in Tampa Bay. This is of course great news for the Blue Jays, but it brings to the forefront the question of Munenori Kawasaki’s fate. We haven’t discussed it very much on this site, but this debate has been brewing for quite some time among bloggers, fans and media alike.

Earlier today Andrew Stoeten of Drunk Jays Fans did a great job breaking down the options that exist at this time. I would strongly encourage you to read what he has to say on the matter. Stoeten concludes that the best option would be to designate Juan Perez for assignment. Personally, I would prefer to see them send Aaron Loup down for 10-14 days, after which they could bring him back up and put Melky Cabrera on the 15-day DL. I realize that Loup has pitched extremely well, but a major league roster is not a meritocracy. Loup has options and he is not at the top of the bullpen depth chart. Sending him down for two weeks is unlikely to significantly impact the team. And giving Cabrera some time off leading into the All-Star break is something that should happen regardless of other roster moves. Watching Melky run the bases and play the field it is quite obvious that his ailing hamstrings are not getting better. Even if this is something he could play through, his limited range and inability to take extra bases on the base paths have made him a much less effective player. If a couple of weeks off will help Melky heal up for the second half the team won’t get a better chance to give him that time than in early July when they have an off day on the 8th and the 4-day break from the 15th-18th.

Even if the team decides to demote or DFA a reliever or place a player on the disabled list tomorrow it will only be a temporary fix. Brett Lawrie is slated to start a rehab assignment tomorrow and, barring another injury, the team is eventually going to have to remove an infielder from their active roster. So who should go?

Munenori Kawasaki

Kawasaki’s personality and key hits this season have been the feel good story of the year so far for Jays fans. However, the idea of a player who is consistently able to perform above their normal capabilities in clutch situations has been pretty much disproven by statistics and you don’t score runs with personality. Kawasaki’s .662 OPS and, more specifically, his .721 OPS against right-handed pitching are more reasonable grounds for keeping him (yes, those numbers are hardly inspiring, but they compare favourably to the team’s other second base options). Working against Kawasaki is the fact that he’s the only infielder with options left, which means he can be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers. Also not in his favour is the absence of a skill that makes him useful off the bench. He doesn’t offer much in the way of positional versatility, he does not hit well enough to be used as a pinch hitter, he does not have elite speed, and his defence does not provide an upgrade over the team’s other infielders. As such, the only way the Jays can justify keeping Kawasaki is if he is playing regularly at second base.

Mark DeRosa

As Parkes alluded to, one of DeRosa’s primary responsibilities on this team is to be a leader and a teacher for younger players. This type of presence obviously has a place, but I’m of the opinion that leadership alone is not reason enough to give a player a roster spot. Fortunately for DeRosa he also has an .861 OPS vs. left-handed pitching and offers more power than any of the other players on this list, which means he’s a useful pinch hitter.

Maicer Izturis

Izturis has been disappointing in the first half and currently has an OPS of just .602. However, unlike Kawasaki, Izturis does offer positional versatility and he is signed through the next 2 years. Furthermore, Izturis has looked more comfortable of late having hit for an .826 OPS over 43 at bats in the last two weeks.

Emilio Bonifacio

Bonifacio has also had a poor start to the 2013 campaign. Though his defence has been better after a very rough start, his bat has yet to come around the way Izturis’ has. Bonifacio has two advantages over Kawasaki- he has been a better hitter over his career and he has elite speed that plays well off the bench.

At some point the Blue Jays infield options will boil down to a choice between Emilio Bonifacio and Munenori Kawasaki. Bonifacio can provide speed off the bench and plays the outfield as well as second base. He had an OBP of .360 while playing full-time in 2011, but is oddly having the worst year of his career at age 28. Kawasaki, on the other hand, is a middle infielder whose on base percentage was .257 in his only prior year of MLB experience, but has surprised everyone by getting on base at a .337 clip and even experiencing a (relative) power surge at the age of 32.

I expect the Jays will put this decision off tomorrow by removing a reliever from the active roster to make room for Reyes. This will buy them some time to determine whether Kawasaki can maintain the gains he has made this year and whether Bonifacio can start to realize the higher upside he possesses (it will also allow fans memories of Kawasaki’s recent heroics to fade). Ultimately, I expect the team will decide that having Izturis at second, Bonifacio on the bench, and Kawasaki in Buffalo is preferable to having Kawasaki at second (against righties), Izturis on the bench and Bonifacio with another team, but the light hitting shortstop sure has surprised us before.

UPDATE: Munenori Kawasaki was optioned to AAA Buffalo after Tuesday night’s game.

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  1. [...] much debate Munenori Kawasaki was sent down on Tuesday night to accommodate Jose Reyes return to the lineup on [...]



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