Blue Jays second baseman Munenori Kawasaki was an odd addition in 2013. Outside of some video clips of his dance moves in the Seattle Mariners dugout, there wasn’t much to love about the 32-year old coming off a .459 OPS season in 61 games. Kawasaki has stuck around for three years, however, serving as a beloved fan favorite and useful organizational depth.
The majority of Kawasaki’s season was spent with the AAA Buffalo Bisons, where he posted a respectable .245 average in 62 games with eight stolen bases and eight doubles. Kawasaki would appear in 23 games for the Blue Jays at the MLB level, mostly in a pinch-run or defensive capacity, posting a .214 average and two doubles over 34 plate appearances.
His future remains uncertain, but on the rare occasion that we speak in a half-serious manner about Kawasaki the ball player, it’s clear that he comes with many limitations. At the very least, though, his game on the field is of a far higher quality than a certain Toronto radio advertisement.
It’s easy for fans to love the man but bash the player with Kawasaki. For me, it’s an issue of context. He’s never been expected to fill any sort of prominent role, and never has. That’s fine. There’s value in organizational depth that keeps a hole plugged in the minor leagues.
Minor league veterans allow for some level of roster consistency in the constantly-moving world of prospects. With Kawasaki at second base or a veteran outfielder steadily monitoring centre field, there isn’t a need to force a younger prospect into an unnatural position for the betterment of the AA or AAA team. It keeps things normal, so to speak. At the AAA level, Kawasaki has mostly held his own. His character cannot be completely discounted, either. While his robust personality doesn’t put runs on the board, it’s great for the clubhouse and team chemistry.
To go along with an 80-grade personality, Kawasaki has a long list of 30-to-40-grade tools. Ideally, a depth piece with the potential to see MLB playing time will have some sort of dominant trait that can be used. For example, Ezequiel Carrera‘s speed, while it wasn’t on display often enough in 2015, makes him a pinch-run upgrade to most hitters late in the game. For a time, Ryan Goins was the depth piece with an elite glove. Unfortunately, Kawasaki lacks that strong trait.
There seems to be a level of loyalty between the Blue Jays and Kawasaki, but with Anthopoulos gone, that may dissolve. I’ve often wondered if he would ever return to Japan, where he starred in the Japan Pacific League with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks from 2006 until 2011. At age 26 in 2007, Kawasaki put up a triple slash of .329 / .381 / .428 with four (4!) home runs. He was more than just a name over there.
If he returns to the Blue Jays, so be it. Depth pieces like Kawasaki are always needed, and while he doesn’t have the boom potential of an addition like Colabello or Carrera, he’ll keep a spot warm somewhere in the system. What’s more important is adding talent above Kawasaki so that he isn’t force into action.