Jose Reyes won over everybody with his bounciness, megawatt smile, jaw-dropping speed and athleticism, and now he's gone. Just like that, sidelined up to three months with a severely sprained left ankle after an awkward, atypical slide into second base on Friday night.
For Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, the road ahead is simple. He cannot replace the entire package, in no small measure because with four more guaranteed years at $82-million, plus a $22-million club option (all currency U.S.), Reyes is the long-term answer at shortstop for a club that had 20 different players start at short between 2002 and 2010.
Replacing Reyes's defence is a priority, and if Munenori Kawasaki or Maicer Izturis can't do it, then adding a useful defender makes sense. But with further moves sure to be needed, Anthopoulos needs to keep his powder dry. The other stuff will have to come from other players, which is why the moves made following Reyes's injury are so intriguing.
Jose Bautista started at third base on Sunday in Kansas City, where the Blue Jays missed a chance to sweep a three-game series with the Royals when Alex Gordon's walk-off single delivered a 3-2 win for the home team. In Dunedin, Fla., Brett Lawrie made a start at second base as he continued his rehabilitation from a rib injury suffered at the World Baseball Classic. It's an experiment, according to Anthopoulos, but the move would allow the Blue Jays to make better use of their outfield depth, which surpasses their infield depth not just in the majors but at Triple-A.
Emilio Bonifacio is the closest thing the Blue Jays have to a lead-off hitter in the absence of Reyes and Lawrie. Bonifacio has been a liability defensively at second base, but can slip into right field along with Rajai Davis and keep the position warm until Anthony Gose is called up.
Gose is a superior defender to either Bonifacio or Davis, and has indicated since the start of spring training that he is prepared to push the envelope in 2013. But he needs at-bats at Triple-A Buffalo.
Bautista's renaissance as a player included the unshackling of a powerful right-field arm, but he is a superb third baseman, and it was Bautista who suggested the move to the infield after the injury to Reyes, who vows to be back ahead of schedule.
Lawrie played second base in the Milwaukee Brewers' organization after being converted from catcher. Former Blue Jays infield coach Brian Butterfield, who saw plenty of videotape of Lawrie at second, said he had little doubt that Lawrie could play second in the majors. Lawrie, whose return to the majors has been fast-tracked by the Reyes injury, ought to be an option to lead off, too.
Lawrie batted .274 and had a .768 on-base plus slugging percentage in 61 games leading off in 2012, with 44 runs scored and 26 extra-base hits. He was only 4-for-8 in stolen-base attempts, but there is much to like about his makeup out of the lead-off spot.
Reyes's injury cuts across all prejudices in the baseball community. It's as serious for those who live in the land of WAR (wins above replacement) as it is for the amateur psychologists who believe in the hazy, hard-to-quantify notion of team chemistry.
The psychologists will further tell you that a team is steeled when one of its best players gets hurt. This is where we'll see what they're made of, they'll tell you, although it is less a coming together against adversity than it is filling the statistical hole that really determines how a team weathers the storm. The band of brothers stuff makes for a nice narrative, but it is also bunk, especially over the course of a 162-game schedule.
Performance is what matters, so Anthopoulos is taking a proper tack when he says he will focus on defence when he talks to his peers. In the meantime, getting the type of starting pitching that the Blue Jays received from R.A. Dickey on Saturday and Brandon Morrow on Sunday is a good first step into three months of unknown.
Pitching and defence. Keep repeating it, folks.