Mission ’13: The Jays’ Middle Infield Must Improve

The day after the Jays and Marlins made the big trade, I wrote a ‘why not?’ piece suggesting that re-signing Kelly Johnson wouldn’t be a bad move. My reasoning was simple, but the specter of having Kelly Johnson continue his decline in Blue Jay blue was daunting.

The situation is different now, and I promise not to gloat or cry over spilt milk. Neither of those tacks are particularly helpful. We’re still early in the season, but the Jays playing against Tampa has raised some issues.

Kelly Johnson signed with the Rays as a bargain basement free agent. He was a typical Rays’ signing: low cost, able to play multiple positions, still a few miles left under the hood, etc. They signed him to a one-year deal worth $2.4 MM. Compared to last season, everything has improved (offense, defense, base running), but the biggest improvement has been with the glove.

This does not come as much of a surprise. He was as good a candidate to bounce back as you’ll find and the Rays, notably Joe Maddon, Dave Martinez, et al, always seem to coax the most out of players. Presently KJ is a 0.6 fWAR player and looks to be putting together a season similar to his ’07 and ’08 campaigns. His 118 wRC+ figure is tantaliziing. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if KJ was somewhere around a 2.5-3.5 WAR player when the ’13 season ends.

The Blue Jays, on the other hand, need stability and production from their middle infield. They’re getting neither. It would be ironic to depend on KJ for stability, since he’s been so erratic during his career but the Izturis/Bonifacio/Lawrie combination has been anything but dependable. Lawrie was a given in the IF, so we’ll exclude him from further discussion. That leaves Izturis and Bonifacio as the primary players replacing Kelly Johnson at 2B (Mark DeRosa has played 2B, but not enough to be discussed here).

Putting it mildly, Izturis and Bonifacio have been underwhelming. Their defense has been atrocious, their offense has been miserable, and their base running has been barely adequate. Bonifacio (-2.5 Fld, 0.9 BsR, -0.6 WAR) is a fish-out-of-water in the IF, and not much better in the OF; he’s just now starting to steal bases. He sports a wRC+ of 25.

The real surprise is Maicer Izturis. Izturis (-4.8 Fld, -0.1 BsR, -0.9 fWAR) covered 3B in Lawrie’s absence (putting Bonifacio at 2B), but has since moved back to his more-comfortable position, 2B. He’s been terrible, but who would have guessed it? On the base paths, he’s invisible, defensively he’s too visible for all the wrong reasons, and offensively I believe his 41 wRC+ says all we need to hear.

Coming into the season one of the Jays’ weak spots was 2B and pretty much everyone knew it. What we didn’t know was just how weak it truly was. I expect improvement, especially from Izturis, but I no longer expect a 2.0 fWAR season from him. If Bonifacio improves to 0.5 fWAR, he will have done quite well.

There weren’t many options on the free agent market, and making another trade would have been prohibitive. However, it’s a testimony to how difficult the season has been to date when Kelly Johnson’s 1.5 Fld and 0.6 fWAR looks good. The key problem is that the Blue Jays have elected—for whatever reason(s)–to use utility players on a full-time basis. Not surprisingly, we’re discovering why they were utility players in the first place.

Wes Kepstro


2 Responses to “Mission ’13: The Jays’ Middle Infield Must Improve”

  1. 1 @ALEastbound May 7, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Izturis 41 wRC+… Good grief

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