Inbox: Will Toronto carry three long relievers?
Beat reporter Gregor Chisholm answers Blue Jays fans' questions
Why did the Blue Jays activate J.A. Happ from the disabled list when they already have Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers in the bullpen? What's the point of carrying three long relievers?
-- Josh W., Winnipeg, Manitoba
This move seems to be all about protecting assets within the organization. Rogers and Redmond are out of options on their contracts, while Happ cannot be sent to the Minor Leagues without his approval because of his service time. In the cases of Rogers and Redmond, they would have to pass through waivers before going to the Minors, and Happ could reject the assignment and force his release.
The Blue Jays are in serious jeopardy of losing at least one of these pitchers, but going with an eight-man bullpen means the tough decision can be put off for at least a few more days. Closer Casey Janssen is expected to return from a lower-back injury later this week, and when he does, Toronto will have no choice but to cut ties with one of the three pitchers or option right-hander Neil Wagner to Triple-A Buffalo.
It would be hard to justify a demotion for Wagner, because he has been a very valuable piece of the bullpen since his arrival earlier this month, and he's known to be a favorite of manager John Gibbons. There also isn't really a need to have three long relievers in the bullpen, so Rogers, Redmond or Happ will likely be gone by the end of week. If the Blue Jays eventually want to return to a seven-man bullpen, that would mean only one of those long relievers survives.
There has been so much talk about general manager Alex Anthopoulos not wanting to lose one of his pitchers that are out of options. What happened to the idea of keeping the best 25 players on the 25-man roster? What's the big deal if the Blue Jays lose Redmond, Rogers or Happ?
-- David D., Buffalo, N.Y.
Anthopoulos never likes to let an asset get away for essentially nothing, but he does have quite a bit of depth in the 'pen. Toronto has a very strong relief corps, which features the likes of Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, Wagner and Aaron Loup. It's only going to get stronger with the addition of Janssen, and in this case, it would make a lot of sense to get rid of at least one long reliever.
The Blue Jays clearly want to protect themselves from injury, and if anything happened to someone in the rotation, then Redmond, Rogers or Happ would be called upon to start. All three have experience as a starter and could fill in, but there shouldn't be a need to keep the entire group. Chad Jenkins and Sean Nolin are waiting in the Minors, John Stilson could be an option for the bullpen, and later this season, Toronto's No. 1 and 2 prospects, Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, should be ready.
The old cliche in baseball is that a team can never have too much starting pitching, but in this particular case, the Blue Jays should be able to stomach the departure of Rogers, Redmond or Happ and be able to move on without too much difficulty.
With Munenori Kawasaki joining the Blue Jays, does he have a chance to become the everyday second baseman now that Maicer Izturis is on the disabled list?
-- Dennis W., Toronto
Kawasaki will likely receive at least a few starts at second base, but in all likelihood, he's going to take over the role of super-utility player. That's the job he was auditioning for during Spring Training and was the main reason the infielder began also seeing some time in the outfield. Gibbons seems at least relatively comfortable with Kawasaki at second base, shortstop, third base and now left field.
Colby Rasmus left Sunday afternoon's game with a left hamstring injury, and while it's not expected to be serious, his status is somewhat up in the air for early in the week. If Rasmus is unable to play, that would leave the Blue Jays with an outfield of Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Moises Sierra. Kawasaki at least gives them an emergency backup in the event of an injury.
Kawasaki also could start some games at second base against right-handed pitching. That would slide Ryan Goins over to shortstop when Jonathan Diaz gets a day off. The mostly likely scenario would see Diaz start most of the games at shortstop with Goins starting at second base, but this alignment won't be needed for very long, because it's possible Jose Reyes will return before the end of the week.
Should we be worried about Reyes' legs when he comes back from injury? He is one of the best basestealing threats in baseball, but is that going to change when he comes off the DL?
-- Mark D., Toronto
There is a very legitimate cause for concern when it comes to Reyes and how the hamstring injury will impact his performance on the bases. Reyes has been through this type of injury before, so nobody knows better than him what to expect, but a quick look at his track record shows why the Blue Jays should take a very cautious approach with their All-Star shortstop.
Reyes suffered a nearly identical hamstring injury with the Mets in 2011. He returned after missing the minimum 15 days, but he eventually reinjured himself several weeks later and required yet another stint on the disabled list. That's something the Blue Jays will obviously want to avoid, but hamstring injuries can be easily aggravated, and that's why it's crucial that both Toronto and Reyes monitor this situation closely in the coming weeks and months.
One way to limit the risk would be having Reyes tone things down on the basepaths. He stole 39 bases for the Mets in 2011, but only nine of those came after July 2, when he first suffered the injury. Even in '12, when Reyes stole 40 bases for the Marlins, there were periods of time in June and then again in August when he went weeks without stealing a base. The hamstring was a major reason why, and he'll likely have to take a similarly cautious approach with the Blue Jays.
There were many articles talking about how Mark Buehrle usually gets off to a slow start, but that hasn't happened this year. What has been the reason for his turnaround this season?
-- Jerry T., Waterloo, Ontario
Buehrle is off to his best start in recent memory, but it certainly hasn't hurt that he's had some luck on his side as well. During his start against the Astros on Tuesday, Buehrle left pitches up in the zone and gave up a lot of hard-hit balls, but he still managed to get through 5 1/3 innings with just one earned run.
The following outing, Buehrle was in trouble early and often against the Orioles, but he found a way to escape almost every jam. He only allowed one run over seven strong innings, but it was another example of a game where his pitching line could have looked much worse if just one or two things had gone differently.
The Blue Jays still have to be encouraged, though, because Buehrle is typically the type of pitcher who gets stronger as the year progresses. He entered this season with a career 4.32 ERA in March/April, which was his worst mark of any month, so the fact that he has allowed just two earned runs in 21 innings is a welcome surprise for Toronto.
Cabrera has been on fire this year. We all know the tumor on his spine was a factor last year, but are there any other reasons for his success? Can he keep it up?
-- Tim S., Toronto
In my opinion, the biggest difference in Cabrera this season is that the strength has returned in his legs. It's noticeable on the field, where Cabrera has a lot more range, but it's also apparent at the plate, where he is once again using his lower half to drive the baseball. Last season, it seemed like the power in his legs was completely gone, and his swing was all arms.
The tendency to use his arms still allowed Cabrera to hit for a rather respectable .279 average last season, but in 344 at-bats, he had just 20 extra-base hits. He already has eight extra-base hits in 61 at-bats this year, and he really seems to be driving the ball with some authority. Cabrera's offseason workout routine with Bautista is likely one reason why, but it's clear the tumor that was removed from his spine had devastating consequences to his overall game last year.
Cabrera enters Tuesday riding a 13-game hitting streak. Seven of those games have included multiple hits, and he has four doubles over his past four contests. Cabrera is arguably the club's hottest hitter right now, and he has gone a long way to helping ease the loss of Reyes at the top of Toronto's batting order.