The Power of Prestidigitation, or How to Upgrade at Shortstop in Three Years

Siegfreid & Roy, Harry Houdini, David Copperfield, Penn & Teller, and The Amazing Kreskin are all illusionists, magicians, and escape artists. They share one key thing in common: they make the impossible seem possible. When you consider what has been accomplished at shortstop on the Toronto Blue Jays since Alex Anthopoulos took the reins as General Manager, you might want to add his name to the list.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not part of the ‘AA is a ninja’ crowd. I don’t need to be in order to be impressed by what he’s done for the franchise. And shortstop is one of the positions where the upgrades have been among the most impressive.

Who The Jays Have: Jose Reyes

Some maintain that Jose Reyes is the best shortstop in MLB. I don’t, but that doesn’t matter much to me. What matters is that the Jays are better at SS than they were last season. Others think that Jose Reyes is overrated, and that Jays’ fans are in for a rude awakening. As with most discussions, the truth is likely to be found somewhere in between those two extremes, but I’m inclined to believe that Jose Reyes is closer to the former extreme than the latter extreme.

It’s not that much of a stretch. If we use fWAR as a catch-all talent evaluating device, consider that in 2012 Reyes ranked #4 among MLB SS. He ranks #2 (slightly) behind Troy Tulowitzki since 2010, and he’s played 107 more games than Tulo in that period. We all know that Tulo’s a monster, (1) when he’s healthy, and (2) when he’s on his game. When he’s healthy, he puts together stretches of unbelievable baseball. He can put the Rockies on his back and carry them to Kilimanjaro-esque heights. Unfortunately, he’s missed so many games that his impact is difficult to judge appropriately. He’s sort of the Eric Lindros of ML baseball.

One knock against Jose Reyes is that he’s also injured frequently, thereby limiting his positive impact. Fair enough, and to compound the potential problem, the turf at the Rog isn’t exactly friendly to players with a history of injuries. However, the Jays aren’t getting Tulo and all his injury problems. Reyes ranks 10th among ML SS with 419 GP since Opening Day 2010. Here’s some perspective: he’s 53 GP behind Alexei Ramirez, who leads MLB SS in GP since 2010. Yunel Escobar ranks 13th with 413 GP. Tulo is well down the list with 312 GP since 2010, ranking him 27th in MLB between Stephen Drew and Rafael Furcal. The situation, though worth keeping an eye on, is far from dire.

How The Jays Got Jose Reyes

The Jays signed Alex Gonzalez to play shortstop for them in ’10. Gonzalez was better than expected, playing well defensively and popping 17 HR before the trade deadline. Alex ranks #25 in fWAR among MLB SS from 2010-2012.

Alex Gonzalez was a pleasant surprise, and the Jays sold high on him in a deal for Yunel Escobar. Yunel ranks #13 among MLB SS since 2010 in fWAR since 2010. Escobar had a reputation, but played pretty well in between injuries. Then there was the eye-black incident, and the die was cast.

Taking advantage of a skittish Marlins front office was AA’s next move. The Jays traded Yunel Escobar (and others) for Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio (and others) who rank #2 and #24, respectively, in fWAR among SS since 2010.

I’ve long been fascinated by this kind of stuff and I expect that there are some trivia buffs reading this, so here’s one for your memory bank. In the same genealogy of trades the Jays acquired both Jo-Jo Reyes and Jose Reyes.

Abracadabra! Hocus Pocus! Hocuscadabra? Abracapocus?

The Jays have upgraded substantially at SS since 2010. Think about the moves they’ve made: the magnitude of the upgrade is so great that a player with a slightly higher rank than Alex Gonzalez at SS since 2010 (i.e. Emilio Bonifacio) is now their back-up SS.

One of the problems the Jays faced in 2012 was a lack of depth. When injuries hit, they were forced to rely on aging star Omar Vizquel and rookie Adeiny Hechavarria. If Reyes gets hurt, then the Jays will be able to fall back on Emilio Bonifacio who, if fWAR is all it’s cracked up to be, contributes slightly more than Alex Gonzalez. Not only are they better at SS, but they’re also deeper. We shouldn’t forget Maicer Izturis here, too, but he looks to be the starting 2B.

In Transylvania 6-5000, Bugs Bunny mixed and matched magic words to get himself out of several tricky spots. In three short years, Alex Anthopoulos has mixed and matched major and minor league talent to acquire the top shortstop combination in Major League Baseball. I expect that will get them out of several tricky spots in 2013 (and beyond).

Wes Kepstro

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