The Argument for the Jays to Call Him Up: Brett Lawrie vs Ryan Braun

Let me start this post by asking you this: if Brett Lawrie was currently playing in the Detroit Tigers organization, where Jim Leyland resides and calls up the most talented player every time, do you believe he would still be in AAA today? What about if he were playing for the Braves organization? In my opinion, no, he wouldn’t, and do you know why? Because those organizations put an emphasis on talent over experience and like to get their young players acclimated to the pressure of MLB as soon as they feel they can handle it. Why? Because they know that once they get acclimated tot he majors, the talent takes over and the player and organization end up much better off for it.

Besides, both franchises play to win, not for 2nd or 3rd place, so their track record reflects what the organization’s philosophy is. Lots of playoff experience, while the Jays…..not so much. You can only use the “we play in the AL East” excuse for so long. At some point, you have to accept part of the blame and change the organization’s philosophy to get results. Alex Anthopoulos has done an admirable job in all areas of the club to change the club’s philosophy overall, and it’s having a positive effect on the talent pool and the pieces the Jays have to work with in Toronto. As an added bonus, we have seen David Cooper and Eric Thames make appearances in Toronto early on in 2011, albeit with mixed results. The difference between them and Brett Lawrie? They’re both 24 while he is only 21 years old.

Even though he’s only 21, Lawrie proclaimed before the season started that he was ready to play in MLB, and I don’t doubt for 1 second that he would have been able to handle himself admirably if given the chance. Since then, he has done nothing but prove himself right and has done an incredible job of hitting in AAA while learning to play a new position. His stats are putting a tremendous amount of pressure on the franchise, one that has fans calling for a change while the Jays still have a shot at making a run for the playoffs in 2011.

I can still remember when the Brewers, ironically the organization Lawrie came from, were under the same kind of pressure to call up Ryan Braun. He was raking, in 2007, in the minors with the following stats before being promoted, coincidently while also playing in the PCL at age 23:

117 AB / 40 hits / 12 DB / 10 HR / 22 RBI / 4 SB / 15 BB / 11 SO / .342 AVG / .418 OBP / .701 SLG / 1.119 OPS

Lawrie’s stats in the PCL at age 21 so far in 2011?

214 AB / 75 hits / 18 DB / 3 TR / 14 HR / 44 RBI / 11 SB / 17 BB / 40 SO / .350 AVG / .409 OBP / .659 SLG / 1.068 OPS

In my opinion, the fact that Lawrie’s doing as well as Braun did – aside from striking out a little more often and a slightly lower SLG – while being 2 years younger speaks volumes about his potential and his talent.

When did Ryan Braun get called up – despite holes in his defensive game at 3B the size of the Goodyear blimp?

MAY 24th

Why was he called up that soon? Well, first there was the Corey Koskie concussion injury which sadly ended his career and forced the Brewers hand. But that’s not the only thing. The Brewers had in-house options, such as Tony Graffanino and Craig Counsell who could both have done a decent job filling in until Braun couldn’t qualify as a Super 2 player anymore. Why didn’t they decide to go with those options? Simply put, they were in the beginnings of a playoff race and wanted to win!

Will the Jays do the same? So far, it doesn’t appear so.

Here we are, 5 calendar days later than the Braun call up date, and the Jays still refuse to call Brett Lawrie up. But wait, it gets better.

The Brewers actually got some production from their 3B before calling Braun up. Well, at this point, anything more than a heartbeat is better than what the Jays have been getting from their 3B, so I don’t even need to bring up any stats…do I?

John McDonald, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jayson Nix have combined to provide the Jays with various issues at 3B. From terrific defensive abilities (JMac) with no offensive output (aside from that great game-winning HR), to horrific defensive abilities…with still no offensive output, to adequate defensive abilities with….still no offensive output, the situation is getting pretty dire in Toronto.

If I told you when the season began that the Jays would get the following production from their 2B and 3B/DH, what would you have said their record would be come June?

  • Encarnacion: 140 AB / .236 AVG / .260 OPB / 12 DB / 0 HR / 9 RBI / 4 BB / 21 SO
  • Aaron Hill: 141 AB / .241 AVG / .281 OBP / 11 DB / 0 HR / 19 RBI / 8 BB / 21 SO

Those are some very depressing stats to say the least. When you consider that the pair above provided the Jays with 47 HRs between them in 2010, it just doesn’t make any sense that they’d both be without a single HR through the first 2 months of the season.

What if I told you that on top of it, one of Jose Bautista or Adam Lind would always be on the DL at the same time? What would you think the Jays record would be? I can guarantee you one thing, if I posted those questions pre-season, not a single person would say that the Jays would be at .500, but such is the case.

I, for one, am holding my head up about the play of the guys. I entirely believe they’re doing their best, and that they should all get better as the year goes along. Remember, Nix was much better before getting injured, Johnny Mac is a SS/2B by trade and a defensive specialist – not a 3B, and Edwin Encarnacion came into camp thinking he was a full-time DH as Alex Anthopoulos had stated before the year began. However, I will say this – the fact that Brett Lawrie is still in the minor leagues when the Jays are within striking distance of a playoff spot, only 2 games back from the wild card, is very disturbing to me. It tells me that as an organization, the Toronto Blue Jays still don’t want to win badly enough to make the tough choices.

The Brewers called Ryan Braun up early, and he won the rookie of the year after hitting an incredible 34 HR for them from May 25th through to the end of the season in 2007. Even though the Cubs wound up beating the Brewers in the standings by 2 games to make the post-season, the Brewers had a new face of the franchise to promote, to point to as a prolific piece of their team to draw others into the franchise, and to get fans into seats at the stadium.

Before Ryan Braun’s arrival in Milwaukee, the attendance numbers averaged the following (all numbers courtesy of Baseball Almanac):

  • 2002: 24,317 (Brewers finished at .346)
  • 2003: 20,992 (Brewers finished at .420)
  • 2004: 25,461 (Brewers finished at .416)
  • 2005: 27,296 (Brewers finished at .500)
  • 2006: 28,835 (Brewers finished at .463)

After his arrival in Milwaukee, attendance numbers averaged the following:

  • 2007: 35,421 (Brewers finished at .512)
  • 2008: 37,882 (Brewers finished at .556)
  • 2009: 37,499 (Brewers finished at .494)

If that’s not clear enough evidence that Ryan Braun, as part of other changes – obviously, had a clear and decisive impact on attendance numbers in Milwaukee, I don’t know what is. A jump of close to 10,000 fans per game is outstanding and allows the franchise the flexibility it needs to go out there and grab a top-notch player, say Zack Greinke or Shaun Marcum, without having to worry about his salary. Would the 2005 Brewers team have made the same moves to acquire such pitchers? I doubt it. I showed the winning percentages per season above for 1 main reason: to detract those who would point to their “winning ways” as the reason for the jump in attendance. They hovered near .500 all of 2007, and they finished under .500 in 2009, so that theory doesn’t hold water.

The truth of the matter is that Ryan Braun, along with Prince Fielder and others, made it interesting enough for fans to come out and watch the Brewers play. They had their star, they embraced him, and they love to watch him Hammer the ball. And, he’s not even from Milwaukee! He’s a Californian. Just imagine what would happen if Brett Lawrie had a similar impact in Toronto, as a Canadian playing a sport dominated by American and Latin players!!

Brett Lawrie is hitting the following over his last 10 games:

.400 AVG / .462 OBP / .822 SLG / 1.284 OPS with 4 doubles, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 4 walks, 8 strike outs, and 2 stolen bases

There is nothing left for him to learn in AAA. Anything and everything he has left to learn will come to him in MLB. Until the Jays decide to make that move, they will never know whether or not he can handle 3B in the big leagues. Will he have some struggles defensively? Sure, I don’t doubt it. Will it be as bad as what Edwin Encarnacion does at 3B? Not even close. Will his offensive abilities make up for most of his defensive deficiencies? Therein lies the biggest question the Jays are asking themselves right now.

What if, unlike Ryan Braun, Brett Lawrie struggles at 3B defensively and beats himself up about it? That could have a serious impact on his state of mind and lead to slumps at the plate. Being so young, and not used to failure to this point (reminds you of Travis Snider….doesn’t it?) that kind of struggle can either bring out the best or the worst in a player. The question then becomes, is it worth the risk?

My answer, hell yes!!!

Brett Lawrie could become the single most important player the Toronto Blue Jays have EVER had in their organization. He’s very young for his playing level, he’s extremely talented, he’s Canadian and therefore as marketable as a player can get in Toronto and more importantly in Canada as a whole, he plays a gritty style of baseball that brings a winning attitude to the club, and he could spend his entire career in Toronto if they play their cards right. If he puts up the kind of stats I believe he can, he could even make a push for the Hall of Fame some day, although a lot of that rides on how he adjusts to playing baseball defensively.

Can you imagine what it would mean for the Toronto Blue Jays franchise to have a Canadian Hall of Fame player spend his entire career with the organization?

He would be what Ryan Braun is to the Brewers fan, what Derek Jeter is to Yankees fan, and what Joe Mauer is to the Twins fan. Adored and revered, bringing a sense of pride to the organization that may not exist if these players were not part of their respective franchises.

Jose Bautista cannot carry this team forever. As Batman needed Robin, Jose needs Brett. The Toronto Blue Jays need a catalyst to carry the team to new heights, and to push the franchise well above the .500 mark as quickly as possible. Doing so will allow Alex Anthopoulos to know for certain that the Jays are in fact buyers in 2011. What he does with that knowledge is debatable, but at least he’ll know where the franchise stands and will head into 2012 with a more experienced team that has shown what it can do with the talent it has on board.

Each day the Jays decide to keep Brett Lawrie in the minors at this point is a shame. He is far too valuable to the Jays as an organization to be toiling in AAA while the Jays continue to place players at 3B who don’t have half of his talent.

Ryan Braun has signed a lengthy contract with the Milwaukee Brewers despite qualifying as a Super 2 player. He is signed through 2020, a clear indication that he is thankful of the opportunities the Brewers gave him, how they’ve handled him, and where they are headed as a franchise. I’m not saying it’s because they called him up early, but it couldn’t have hurt. Besides, had he remained in the minors, he could have cooled off offensively and wound up staying in AAA for all of 2007, which would have changed his situation in Milwaukee entirely. Instead, he has blossomed into one of the great players in MLB, and has signed a very team favorable contract with the Brewers given his talents ($105 million from 2016 through 2020, which is added to his current $45 million deal that covers 2008-2015).

Would Brett Lawrie sign similarly team favorable deals in Toronto? That’s debatable. But, with the possible, or probable, jump in attendance should he do well in Toronto, should the Jays really care? I don’t think so, particularly when you consider how many Canadians from coast-to-coast will be drawn in due to the fact that he is a Canadian baseball star.

My message to the Jays after looking at the Brett Lawrie vs Ryan Braun scenario is the following:

Bring Brett Lawrie up NOW!! You won’t regret it.

- MG

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Tags: Aaron Hill Brett Lawrie Edwin Encarnacion Jose Bautista Ryan Braun

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