With Brett Lawrie's return to the Blue Jays in recent days at his 'natural position' of 2nd base, there have been many rumblings around the BBB clubhouse about the wisdom of the move. While it is true that many aspects of the move seem unnatural because of the increased risk of injury at 2nd base and the lost value of Lawrie's arm, there are a number of compelling reasons to at least determine whether Lawrie could play the position well at the MLB-level.
Reasons to Be Wary:
1) Injury risk
This is probably the most compelling reason for me to be concerned about Lawrie's conversion to 2B. There is no doubt a history of Lawrie seeking to prove he's unafraid of the physical portion of the game. Whether a play at the plate or a collision tag with Bryce Harper at third, Brett seems to seek out physical contact which rarely ends well for a second basemen colliding with a hard slide. Perhaps he's taken note that there's less glory allotted to second basemen that eat a collision to turn two, but I kind of doubt that. I see him as wanting to be the guy who broke 15 ankles in a season by standing there when the cowards would have leaped out of the way. Hopefully the first time he feels a spike, he doesn't get hurt and he doesn't freak out and he actually decides that he'd like to keep playing on a somewhat regular basis.
The way I look at it though, Brett Lawrie will be an injury risk wherever he plays on the diamond because of the kind of person that he is. He will seek it out wherever he is on the diamond and while 2B exposes him more often to collision situations, there's a good chance he'd get injured regardless.
2) Lost value of Lawrie's arm at 2B
This reason certainly has it's merits, but for me, the positional adjustment means that Lawrie's providing additional value at the position offensively. Nobody predicted that Lawrie's defence would be his strongest asset when he was making his way to the Majors but he surprised nearly everyone because of his outstanding athleticism. If that can translate into above-average to elite defence at second base and the bat settles in somewhere between 2011 and 2012, then the Blue Jays will sport one of the best in the game at the position.
What is lost with Lawrie's arm at 2B could be easily recovered by having his bat play there. There's also a chance that his athleticism will allow him to become an elite defender at a premium position giving him even greater value to the team.
3) Distraction for Lawrie from offense
Brett Lawrie gets distracted by just about anything. I think he may have had a few too many energy drinks at some point. He has a hunger and drive to be the best at everything that he does though. Perhaps it's short-sighted of me, but I just don't think there's many things that can shake the man's self-confidence. I don't see him being distracted like EE about his fielding because of embarrassment, because I don't think he's capable of that feeling.
Because of this and his still young age, I don't see his offensive development being an issue long-term. There is plenty of time for him to work on his bat after re-learning to play 2B if he can't do both at once.
4) Fills a hole by creating another
This is the area that I want to focus on the most because I believe it is actually one of the most important. Many people lament the move because it doesn't actually improve the lineup. Maicer Izturis is likely a better 2B than Lawrie (at least for now) and Lawrie a better 3B than Izturis. Since they will be bringing the same bat to the plate every day, the team may actually be marginally worse with the two of them reversed.
It may be true that the chances of the Blue Jays making the playoffs are marginally affected for the worse by the move (barring a Brett Lawrie exploded ankle), but considering the performance of Lawrie offensively thus far this season and the realistically slim chances of making the playoffs, I don't see the move as being but a drop in the ocean compared to the struggles of the starting rotation.
Either way, the point of the move has never been about improving the team immediately. It is about providing the team with the flexibility to make different moves in the future that could significantly improve the team on the field. Brett Lawrie, having played a handful of games at 2B, is not somehow glued to the position until the end of time. They could potentially have the ability to move him back and forth as necessitated by injury/roster changes/matchup/etc. Having ourselves a Ben Zobrist who can play multiple positions well does not get shot down by the lost value in Lawrie's arm. His arm will still be there if we need it at 3B or his footwork/pivot fails to live up to expectations at 2B.
However, with Brett Lawrie at second and third loosely occupied by a utility man, there is the opportunity to get creative through trade.
Everyone knows, players included, that middle infielders with an impact bat that provide quality defence are both rare and difficult/expensive to acquire via trade or free agency. Chase Utley will cost an arm and a leg this coming offseason to bring north and there's not even a guarantee he'll have legs to stand on by next season, let alone the life of a free agent contract. Robinson Cano will likely sign one of the largest free agent contracts for a position player ever this offseason and that doesn't fit into the Blue Jays' mould of doing business.
Acquiring an established player like Omar Infante during a firesale or a near-ready prospect like Jean Segura/Alcides Escobar for a rental Ace are not to be counted upon by any means. Jean Segura is an All-Star now because of his bat, but he could look like Escobar by next year without the defence. Our rental doesn't look much like an Ace this year anyways and likely won't by the time the deadline arrives.
As far as MLB-ready prospects go on teams with an established/controlled 2B already, Kolten Wong comes to mind with All-Star Matt Carpenter eligible for arbitration for the first time in 2015 but again, it would be difficult to assemble a package that would suit their needs. They're not scrambling to acquire rental relievers this year with such a strong bullpen and I doubt the Jays would be willing to give back Colby Rasmus now that Jon Jay has turned back into a pumpkin. What's more likely is they use him as a centerpiece in the acquisition of a starting pitcher to bolster their rotation like Matt Garza with whom they've been connected rather than an underperforming Josh Johnson.
Acquiring elite 2nd basemen can be a rather difficult task. Signing/drafting/developing them is also a difficult task.
To be fair, there have been a number of quality shortstops moved in the last few years who could be played at second base but most of them were acquired in exchange for Zack Greinke including Alcides Escobar who has fallen off sharply in 2013 and Jean Segura who is enjoying an All-Star campaign in his first full season in the MLB. Yunel Escobar was moved recently too though likely because of off-field issues and would not be rated so highly by WAR if he were playing at 2B. Adeiny Hechavarria joined the Marlins but has been quite disappointing offensively thus far in Miami.
So what about acquiring a 3rd basemen?
Chase Headley is always rumoured to be on the market and this July is no exception. However, the Padres would love to extend him and would demand a tonne of value in any trade even after a down year like he's having. Aramis Ramirez is also said to be available though his power has dropped, his defence may be slipping and is owed ~$25M through next year. He has shown himself to be worth that in year's past but at 35, he's not getting any younger and his contract is looming larger.
Chris Johnson moved in the offseason with Justin Upton, though he is an awful defender and would not be ideal. Adrian Beltre signed with the Rangers in 2011 and has been worth every penny. Jeff Keppinger traditionally mashes lefties and is signed for $12M for 3 years prior to the year. Eric Chavez cost the Diamondbacks just $3M this season and is absolutely destroying righties. If the Blue Jays' rotation performed closer to expectations and the bullpen were trimmed down to 7 men, would a quality platoon be as difficult/expensive to acquire in the offseason as a star second basemen?
Why not look within?
Edwin Encarnacion did not look horrible in limited interleague action at the hot corner and Jose Bautista, despite his wishes to play RF, could also play the position actually quite well. If the Blue Jays were to somehow acquire Giancarlo Stanton to play RF, would there be anyone picketing out front of the SkyDome calling for management's heads for their treatment of either star? That kind of move to drastically improve the team would be seen in a much different light by those players than trying to get Eric Thames/Moises Sierra/Travis Snider/Anthony Gose's bat in the lineup.
Acquiring a player of Stanton's quality is likely a pipe dream, but there is certainly greater fluidity with above-average to elite outfielders in the free agent/trade market as evidenced by the moves of Justin Upton/Josh Hamilton/Josh Willingham/Michael Bourn/Torii Hunter/Melky/Shane Victorino in the past offseason. They are also much easier to develop. Kevin Pillar is playing about as well as one can at AAA and could be deserving of a look even before rosters expand in September.
Outfield platoons are the easiest and cheapest to assemble if EE/JBau were willing to fill the hot corner between the two of them. They may not be as willing to do so for a platoon, but there is certainly the opportunity to improve the team more cost effectively by acquiring a 3B/OF than by throwing loads of cash or the few remaining elite prospects we have at the 2B hole.
In the end, the Lawrie at 2B is not an irreversible experiment and if we're being realistic is likely only marginally affecting our already rather slim chances of making the playoffs. I truly believe the team has underperformed enough this year that it would be competitive next year with the same lineup. That being said, if there's an opportunity to improve the roster and allow the team to better absorb bad luck and poor performance, then personally, I'm all for it.
AA alluded to the idea of moving Jose Bautista back to third base in an interview for 1050 (Link) though he qualified that by saying that the difference in throwing motions' effect on the shoulder likely meant it would not be happening mid-season. That's okay. Stanton will only be 24 by Spring Training.
Note: Been working an insane amount of hours and truly miss the opportunity to banter with everyone on a regular basis in the game threads. I've been lurking as much as I can and I'm glad to see this season hasn't broken spirits around here. Go Jays Go.