The Odd Timing of Eric Thames’ Demotion
When the 2012 season opened for the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Florida; the only true “position battle” was for left field – waged between high-ceiling prospect Travis Snider and the incumbent Eric Thames. Thames was favoured in the role because he had played ~50 games there to end the season and been serviceable offensively, while showing poor defensive skills. As a result, it was made known that Travis Snider would have to essentially blow Thames out of the water to win the job. In the end, they had similar decent springs (spring stats are meaningless for a number of reasons, the investigation of which is worthy of a post in and of itself) and as a result, Thames won the job while Snider was shipped out to AAA Las Vegas.
In the month of April, Thames hit a strong .308/.361/.446 with a .345 wOBA and 118 wRC+, he had a passable 16.1 K% although his defense left much to be desired. Meanwhile, Snider hit .400/.477/.693 in 19 April games with essentially no home/road split. Unfortunately, Snider injured his wrist on April 26, ending his month.
This could not have come at a worse time for the Blue Jays as Eric Thames began to struggle in May. Badly. In May, Thames hit .193/.227/.301, with a .231 wOBA and 39 wRC+. Thames suffered a 73-point BABIP regression, but the major cause of Thames downfall was a sharp increase in strikeouts. In the month of May, Thames struck out in 31.6% of his plate appearances, the fourth-most in baseball for a qualified hitter over that span. As the month progressed, it became increasingly clear that Thames was simply over-matched in the Major Leagues. However, there was an apparent problem – Snider played seven games in the middle of May, looked awful (.095/.192/.286) then was shut down again with more wrist trouble on May 17, yet to play as of this writing.
After losing 14-3 to the Texas Rangers on Friday May 25 in a game where Brandon Morrow pitched merely two-thirds of an inning and losing 8-7 to Texas in 13 innings the following day, the bullpen was extremely taxed and roster moves were made, as detailed in prior posts, to construct an eight-man bullpen. Further complications arose when Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar suffered hamstring and groin injuries, respectively, in the Texas series that necessitated the recall of an extra infielder. At this point, the Blue Jays made an odd response to their situation – Thames was demoted to AAA and utility player Mike McCoy was recalled.
The oddity of the response stems from the upcoming schedule. The Blue Jays have today off after completing a three-game home sweep against Baltimore, play the Red Sox over the weekend and have Monday off before travelling to Chicago. Despite the lull in the schedule, manager John Farrell has indicated that the rotation will continue on full turns. This means that Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow will make their next starts on six days rest, while the back of the rotation will make each of their next two starts on five days rest. This is hardly a situation that necessitates carrying an eight-man bullpen and a three-man bench of a catcher, an infielder and an infielder who is hurting. There is no outfield help on the bench at this point and McCoy is the only true viable option, period. The other downside to the current roster is that the team’s best pinch-runner (who doesn’t hit RHP very well at 78 wRC+ career), Rajai Davis, is now in the everyday lineup with Snider hurt. It would have made much more sense to demote one of Jesse Chavez or Aaron Laffey, neither of whom are likely to pitch; and either stick with Thames until Snider is ready or bench him in favour of Davis, leaving a left-handed bat and OF available.
Recalling an infielder was a necessity but the manner in which it was done, not only seems illogical, but hurts the team in its’ current state.
UPDATE: Aaron Laffey was sent back to Las Vegas after tonight’s game. Prior to Friday’s game the Blue Jays will make a corresponding roster move, they announced. Adam Lind, who has hit .343/.442/.657/.467/183 in 43 plate appearances in Triple-A is a possible recall candidate, as is Vladimir Guerrero; although Alex Anthopoulos indicated he would see time in both AA and AAA to adjust to velocity and off-speed pitches, respectively.
UPDATE: A third candidate for recall is SS Adeiny Hechavarria. It has been thought that he is not ready offensively (.316/.358/.458/.367/118, but inflated by the league and park) and that he would not be brought up only on a long-term basis. However recent comments by Alex Anthopoulos that a visa issue had been resolved, thereby allowing Hechavarria to travel to Canada, coupled with the fact that he did not play tonight for Las Vegas are potential indicators that it could indeed by Hechavarria on his way to Toronto.