Toronto Blue Jays Reportedly Interested in Brett Lawrie

Feb 19, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays players stretch during spring training at Bobby Mattix Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 19, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays players stretch during spring training at Bobby Mattix Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

With lingering health questions around second baseman Devon Travis, and lack of depth behind third baseman Josh Donaldson, does a reunion with Brett Lawrie make sense for the Toronto Blue Jays?

According to Jim Bowden of ESPN, the Toronto Blue Jays are one of at least four teams that have shown interest in Brett Lawrie, who was given his release by the rebuilding Chicago White Sox on March 3rd.

Lawrie, 27, will forever be known by Jays fans as one of the key pieces to go to the Oakland A’s in the franchise altering trade two years ago that netted the Jays perennial MVP candidate Donaldson.

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At the time of the deal, Lawrie looked like a defensive star with an average bat that just could not stay healthy. Many will remember the hype around him in 2011. After destroying triple-A with a 163 wRC+, he was called up to the big leagues in August of that season and put up a 2.6 WAR in 43 games (171 plate appearances) behind what looked like all world defense. He was still a valuable player for the Blue Jays in subsequent seasons, putting up WARs of 2.3, 1.4, and 1.8 from 2012-14 respectively while battling injuries in each of those seasons, but never quite reached the star level that many had projected of him.

Since the trade to Oakland, Lawrie has looked much, much worse. The defensive metrics point to him being a shell of what he used to be. In 2015-16, he had a combined -7 DRS and -9.5 UZR as a second baseman, and -3 DRS and -10.3 UZR as a third baseman. The vanishing defensive ability is staggering for someone who combined for a +35 DRS and +13.4 UZR as a third baseman with the Jays.

While his defense dipped considerably, his offense stayed relatively consistent. Over the past two years, his wRC+ is 94, with a slash line of .255/.303/.410 in 986 plate appearances, which is not too far off from what he has done for his career. If he were still an all world defensive player, then that line may have been acceptable, but since his defense has deteriorated, at least based on the metrics, it has lead to a 0.7 WAR in 2015, a trade to the White Sox, a 0.9 WAR in 2016, and now being released in Spring Training.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

Aside from his performance, Lawrie also comes with personality issues that the Jays are likely all too familiar with. He plays very hard, some times too hard for his own good, and is oft-injured. He has battled the “attitude” label ever since he was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers.

So does he make sense for the Blue Jays to go after? Surprisingly, yes. The Jays do not have any issues at third base (Donaldson) or second base (Travis) from a pure talent standpoint. However, there is no third base depth in the organization in case Donaldson has to miss time, and Travis has been injured in some form or fashion for the last three seasons. While Lawrie is not a short-stop, there is always the issue of Troy Tulowitzki and his ability to stay on the field as well. Darwin Barney is a capable utility infielder, but the Jays could use another one not named Ryan Goins.

As a utility infielder, Lawrie could cover for Travis in case he needs to miss the beginning of the season. He could cover for Donaldson in case the 2015 MVP needs rest or has to miss time. Lawrie is also athletic enough to possibly cover some outfield, even though he has no experience there yet. He would be a nice complement to Barney on the bench. There would be an issue of having too many bodies though, which would force the team to have to get rid of someone like Justin Smoak.

It remains to be seen whether Lawrie would accept a backup role, or whether another team out there is ready to sign him as a starting option in one of the infield spots, but as a reserve infielder, he makes a lot of sense for a Blue Jays team that still lacks infield depth throughout the organization.

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In an ideal world, the Blue Jays would sign outfielder Angel Pagan to play left field and sign Lawrie to be the utility infielder. The Jays have been linked to both players over the last couple of days, and neither one figures to be expensive. Incremental depth improvements could be a big deal throughout the course of a long season, and the front office appears to be well aware of that.