Who’s on first, but What’s on second? Replacing Kelly Johnson


Back in late April, Kelly Johnson was arguably the most productive hitter on the team. He was sitting at 0.8 WAR, and when projected over a full 162 game season, Johnson was on pace for 7.6 WAR. For comparison, in Jose Bautista’s two monster seasons, he produced 6.8 and 8.3 WAR. I wrote an article here at Jays Journal describing just how well Johnson was playing, and attempted to put a dollar figure on the type of contract he’d deserve if he continued on that pace, or something close to it. Based upon market history at the second base position, I came up with a three year deal worth 36 million dollars, with a club option for a fourth year. Since writing that article, Johnson has been worth -0.3 WAR. Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Over four and a half months, he’s been worse than what the average Triple-A player would produce in the Major Leagues. Blue Jays fans have complained how bad he looks at the plate, and the statistics back up their claims. I’m ecstatic that the team chose the wait and see approach with Johnson’s impending free agency.

Johnson has played so poorly here, it’s nearly impossible for the team to consider bringing him back for the 2013 season. Even if he would agree to a much more team friendly contract, that Blue Jays need to move on. After such a colossally disappointing season, optics will be a very important aspect of the offseason. Not only does the team need to make upgrades, but they need to be visual to the casual fan. As the September attendance has shown, the new logo hype has worn off, and the historically successful spring is long forgotten. Three months of constant heartbreak and frustration will do that to a fan base. Admittedly, I’ve watched far fewer Blue Jays games here in August and September than I did in May and June. Part of that has been due to less free time in the evenings, but a lot of it has to do with me questioning why I would want to put myself through three hours of alternating waves of agony and anger. Kelly Johnson cannot play second base for this team in 2013. We need a fresh start.

Unfortunately, the options at second base are rather limited. Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano are or will be under long term contract, and honestly, I’d rather claw out my own eyes than see Pedroia in a Blue Jays uniform anyway. Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips are signed to significant deals, and as both play for a contender, they’re doubtful to be available in trade. Ben Zobrist has a much more favorable contract with three years and 20 million (including options) remaining after 2012, but that’s exactly why Tampa Bay wouldn’t want to move him. Jason Kipnis, Neil Walker, and Dustin Ackley would be my preferred targets, but the cost may be deemed prohibitive as all three are under team control for four-plus years.

The free agent market has even less to offer. If he’s willing to move to second base, Stephen Drew is the marquee name. He missed nearly a full year with the broken ankle he suffered last July, and has been dreadful since his return. Even so, teams would be foolish to forget the 5.1 WAR he produced in 2010, his last healthy season. If Drew is the upside play, Marco Scutaro is the safe play. He’s been resurgent since being freed from Colorado and joining the pennant race in San Francisco, and could be counted on for solid but unspectacular production. There’s little else beyond those two, as the next best options appear to be Kelly Johnson, Maicer Izturis, and Freddy Sanchez – not an inspiring group.

August 11, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Adeiny Hechavarria (3) throws out New York Yankees baseman Mark Teixeira (not pictured) at the Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

If the team can’t make an addition through the trade market or free agency, Adeiny Hechavarria appears to be the fallback option. He’s looked about how I expected; raw, but with some potential. There’s no questioning his defensive prowess, as his actions in the field have looked incredibly smooth. His throws across the diamond from third base have been both powerful and accurate, so second base would be a cake walk. Hechavarria has looked raw at the plate, but at least to me, he hasn’t looked wild. There’s a difference between swinging wildly and missing, and Hechavarria has fallen into the latter category. Pitchers have been challenging him in the strike zone and his swings have looked good, but he doesn’t yet have the hit tool to make contact at an average or above rate. This can be improved. As Hechavarria continues to work with coaches to learn what pitchers throw and their sequencing, he’ll have a better idea what’s coming and can time his swing better. One thing is for certain; if Hechavarria is with the Blue Jays in 2013, Chad Mottola needs to be as well. Scouts have noticed a significant improvement in swing mechanics since Hechavarria began working with Mottola late last season, and honestly, I don’t want Dwayne Murphy anywhere near him or Anthony Gose.

If you ranked all of the options for second base, Hechavarria would probably be between the middle and the bottom third. He obviously has less upside than guys like Kipnis and Walker, but at the same time, I’m confident he could out produce most of the free agents available in this thin crop. As I mentioned in my article on Moises Sierra, it comes down to how the Blue Jays decide to allocate their resources – and by that I mean both money and prospects. The team won’t be able to upgrade second base, left field, designated hitter, and two spots in the rotation entirely from outside the organization, some plugs will be filled from within. Adeiny Hechavarria isn’t the best option for second base, but he’s really not a bad one either.