The Blue Jays may have won the game on Friday night in Kansas City, but if ever there was a sporting definition of Pyrrhic Victory, this was it. The Jays won that battle but ultimately may have lost the war, as during that 8-4 victory their most important player, shortstop Jose Reyes, was lost to devastating injury.
Beginning from Day 1 of spring training back in mid-February, it had already become clear that the one player the Blue Jays could least afford to lose from their revamped, ready to compete 2013 roster was their all-star leadoff man Reyes.
A nightmare scenario of life without Reyes became painful reality on Friday night at Kauffman Stadium after Reyes injured his left ankle, in an ugly, awkward slide at second base caused by indecision. He thought there was a foul ball. He usually goes in headfirst. Amidst tears of pain and frustration, Reyes' ankle was immobilized, he was carted off the field and left the ballpark in a wheelchair talking on his cellphone, likely reassuring family and friends that he would be alright. Teammates were stunned.
The report following an MRI in Kansas City is that Reyes has a badly sprained ankle that at the moment will not require surgery. The estimate if all goes well is that the starry shortstop will be available after the all-star break in mid to late July.
Not only is Reyes the best defender on the team at his position, he is the type of prototypical leadoff batter that the Jays have been missing for years, maybe since Otis Nixon -- and he pales by comparison. Reyes brought a passion and joy to the clubhouse that resulted, ultimately, in a similar focus to Jose Bautista once the game started, giving young Jays two role models to emulate at complete opposite ends of the leadership spectrum. And just as the Jays sorely missed Bautista when he was absent and rehabbing in the second half last season, so will they miss Reyes when he leaves to rehab his injury.
Where do the Jays go from here? For the moment, Bautista has offered his services as a third baseman, at which he is above average, but he is also the Jays' right fielder of the present and future and Rajai Davis is less than adequate as an everyday outfielder.
The first thing GM Alex Anthopoulos must do, then, is accelerate his timeline for third baseman Brett Lawrie, who finally had returned to game action on Thursday in Dunedin after a slow rehab of his injured left oblique. Lawrie had suffered the rib injury on March 6 in Phoenix and had surprised people, negatively, with the amount of time that it took him to feel comfortable enough to return to playing in a game.
Lawrie had suffered a similar injury to his opposite, right side in 2012, attempted to play through the pain and then likely attempted to come back too soon. He had reached the point, personally, this year where he preferred be too careful, as he explained, waiting until his left side felt just like his right. The Jays will place their baseball order from the only menu available, and are hoping that two good sides come with their order, even if they have to pay a premium in terms of patience with less than optimum offence as Lawrie's timing at the plate works its way back to normal -- at the major-league level.
That Lawrie promotion will solidify the third base defence that has been struggling with Maicer Izturis and Mark DeRosa demonstrating for 10 days how good Lawrie actually is at the position. Then Bautista would be able to go back to the outfield and Davis can resume as a part-time, platoon DH and explosive weapon off the bench.
As for the shortstop position, after the trading of Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria to the Marlins, there is nothing long-term on the immediate horizon within the organization. Mike McCoy is a utility player. Young Ryan Goins showed at spring training that he is not at the level where he can be trusted defensively at shortsop on a day-to-day basis. Beyond that, on March 14, the Jays signed free agent shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, who on a short term basis was the best option to be called up right now -- and was.
Kawasaki, 31, a fan favourite because of his Reyes-like attitude (not ability) about the game, played 61 games for the Mariners in 2012 -- 39 at shortstop. He is a defender, winning a couple of Gold Gloves in the Japanese major leagues. But offensively, despite good baserunning speed, he is inadequate on an all-round basis in the long-term.
On one of the visits to the Mattick training centre in Dunedin this spring, I saw Kawasaki in a game and he carried himself like a man among boys, like he knew he could still play at the next level. He started the season in Buffalo, where he had batted .400 in two games.
So where does Anthopoulos look for help, which he admits he is doing? Television images showed him already on the phone in a press level private box at Kauffman Stadium. He has his go-to GMs and there are some players out there with other teams that could help until Reyes returns, some maybe more. He said he's looking for defence first.
Just a quick survey of shortstops with major-league experience that could be available. The list includes Mike Aviles (Indians), John McDonald (Pirates), Yuniesky Betancourt (Brewers), Jonathan Herrera (Rockies), Ramiro Pena (Braves), Cesar Izturis (Reds) and, what would be a bold stroke move, the demoted Dee Gordon of the Dodgers.
In the meantime, the Jays can survive the Reyes injury if other players in the batting order step up to produce offensively as had been expected -- guys like Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus and Lawrie. But what they need more than anything out of shortstop is the defence to allow the starting pitching to find its stride.
It has come to pass that the most difficult man to replace in the batting order now needs to be replaced. Successfully bridging the timeline until Reyes returns will be Anthopoulos' most difficult challenge. Despite the stunning loss of Reyes, there is no Blue Jays excuse for not contending, even with General Pyrrhus leading the charge.