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Where the Jays Stand – Shortstop (and Other Stuff)

Posted By Ben Fisher On Nov 7 2011 @ 1:54 pm In Toronto Blue Jays | 2 Comments

Before we get to looking at Yunel Escobar and the SS position for the Jays, a quick look back on what has been a busy week, albeit maybe not it the ‘getting big names into the fold’ way that some would ideally prefer.

1 – Jays Outright Loewen and Carlson

It’s interesting that Adam Loewen, he of just 32 at-bats with the Blue Jays, was the emphasized loss of the two, while Jesse Carlson, who has made all 162 of his career appearances with Toronto, was not. Loewen is, of course, the bigger loss as a 27-year old with little mileage who will find another major league home due to his raw power and athleticism, as well as his 6’6” frame (his Canadian roots were just a bonus). That being said, the Jays outfield was already crowded and a .188 average wasn’t going to force him into the conversation. Carlson, meanwhile, had a similarly-redemptive story in reaching the majors at 27 as a relative late bloomer and thriving, going 7-2 with a 2.25 ERA. But due to health and underperformance, the lefty couldn’t keep it together and, bottom line, he won’t be a hard arm for the team to replace.

2 – Jays Hire LaMar

The biggest winner in Chuck LaMar’s hiring as a special assistant with the organization with an emphasis on amateur scouting has to be LaMar, himself. Think about it: he had previously served as GM for the Rays, overseeing drafts in which they selected guys like Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, James Shields and Jeff Niemann at a time when the club was starting to realize the importance of developing through the draft. Then, after being fired before seeing the fruits of his efforts and making a quick stop in Washington, he moved onto Philadelphia, where building from within was de-emphasized in favour of throwing money at marquee talent (reportedly the reason for his sudden resignation in September). Now, he gets to ply his trade once again under a GM who values the draft process and an ownership group that has provided the necessary financial support in terms of bonuses and whatnot to identify players based on talent rather than affordability.

3 – Jays Acquire Magnuson for Cash

It feels like the Evil Empire on a much, much, much smaller scale: Toronto picked up Rajai Davis from Oakland last November in exchange for Danny Farquhar and Trystan Magnuson, both of whom they later re-acquired for cold, hard cash. While it certainly isn’t an embarrassment of riches, it does represent the assertive approach of a team that is slowly recognizing their status as a ‘have’ franchise. Also, don’t dismiss the potential significance of Magnuson in the team’s plans. The 6’7” Vancouver native (what are they feeding these BC boys?) has maintained a sub-3.00 ERA at all levels of the minors over the last three seasons, even in the AAA Pacific Coast League (a notorious hitter’s league) last season and was seen as a potential closer of the future before the trade to Oakland. Now with a taste of big league action under his belt (mind you, it was an ugly 14.2 innings of work with the A’s in which he allowed 10 earned runs), the 26-year old will have the chance to fight for a spot in the team’s wide-open bullpen next season.

The 2011 Guy(s)

Starter: Yunel Escobar

Back-Up: Mike McCoy

Waiting in the Wings: Adeiny Hechavaria

How Did The Jays Fare?

Escobar doesn’t exactly look the part of the prototypical lead-off man, boasting only average speed and getting caught stealing as many times (three) as he successfully stole a base last season. However, among shortstops, the 29-year old ranked third in OBP (.369), trailing just Jose Reyes and Troy Tulowitzki, and first in walks (61), making him an on-base machine.

Defensively, he was slightly above-average – with much of the goodwill generated by his sometimes-spectacular play being undone by the all-too-frequent flub, sailing throw or mental miscue. On top of that, while he hasn’t been a sulky clubhouse distraction in the same way he was in Atlanta, there are still instances of Escobar failing to run out a grounder and not playing with energy that surely vex manager John Farrell and the rest of his teammates. Still, though, offensively-capable middle infielders are a rare breed in the majors and the Cuba native currently reigns as one of the best.

Where Are They Headed?

Unlike his double play partner at second base (whomever that may end up being), Escobar has no uncertainly over his everyday role with the 2012 Blue Jays. Short of a serious injury or drastic, unforeseen overhaul by Alex Anthopoulos (or an ill-advised run at Reyes), he can be penciled in for 500+ at-bats out of the lead-off spot or two-hole and a permanent hold on the shortstop position.

With John McDonald returning to Arizona for at least the next two seasons, it looks as though the Jays will have to find themselves a back-up infielder. Nothing against McCoy, who filled in admirably and never complained during a season in which he probably felt like a yo-yo, but the club clearly didn’t trust him entirely and likely won’t want to go into 2012 with him as the first guy called upon at multiple positions. Kicking the tires on a guy like Nick Punto, Ramon Santiago or any of a group of inexpensive veteran free agent infielders is a possibility, but it will be interesting to see whether Hechavaria gets a taste of major league duty at any point in 2012 (don’t bet against it, especially if his bat can continue developing at the rate it did in 2011).

Another Twitter plug:  for further Jays analysis, plus random thoughts on news, sports, entertainment and other irreverent crap, follow me (@RealBenFisher).

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