Blue Jays 2018 Super-Utility: An Old New Idea

TORONTO, CANADA - JUNE 20: Jose Reyes /

Could Jose Reyes be an option for the 2018 Blue Jays in a utility role? 

The Blue Jays hope to start 2018 with Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop and Devon Travis at second base. However, there is considerable question about how many games the Jays can expect from those two, given their injury histories.

Some writers have suggested that the Jays mitigate this risk by trading Travis for an experienced, healthy second baseman – like Dee Gordon, Jason Kipnis, or even Ian Kinsler.  But giving up on the talented second baseman would be difficult – he could easily have won the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2015 had he remained healthy, and he is exactly the young, fast, cheap kind of player that the Jays need to build around.   As a result, many writers (including yours truly) have advocated a different option:  acquiring a super-utility infielder capable of backing up both Tulo and Devo.

What would such a player look like?  Ideally he would have decent defensive stats at both second and short (other positions would be a bonus) with a strong enough bat that he could contribute to some degree at the plate as well.  He should be cheap, and should not require a long-term deal.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

So let’s talk about Jose Reyes.

Reyes was acquired by the Jays in the 2012 mega-deal with the Marlins.  He played 2.5 years with the Jays before being traded to Colorado in the Tulowitzki deal in 2015.  From there, things went downhill quickly.  He was charged with domestic violence in October 2015, and although the charges were eventually dropped he was suspended by the MLB for 52 days.  On his return, he was designated for assignment by the Rockies, and eventually signed a major league minimum contract with the Mets, for whom he played in 2016 and 2017.  Reyes is a free agent in 2018.

So let’s start with Reyes the player.  In 2017, he played in 145 games for the Mets.  He had a decent (if unspectacular) 94 wRC+ for the year, but had a .288/.356/.472 line and a 121 wRC+ in the second half.  Defensively, Reyes is an enigma – one of those players on whom DRS and UZR/150 differ greatly.  In 2017, at second base, Reyes had a solid +3.5 UZR/150 … but a -5 DRS.  At short, the split was even more pronounced – a -1.9 UZR/150 (not bad for a replacement SS) but a holy-cow-batman-bad -15 DRS.  So, if you believe the UZR/150, he would be an acceptable defender at both second and short – at least, as a defensive fill-in.  Reyes has said (in no uncertain terms) that he would prefer to end his career with the Mets, but it is far from certain that the Mets share that wish.  Reyes has also said that he is comfortable (at this stage of his career – he will be 34 on opening day in 2018) being a bench utility player, and would not expect to start every game.  And given that he has career earnings of $140 million and is coming off two years where the Mets paid him only the major league minimum (the Rockies paid the rest), his salary demands and contract term might not be that extortionate.

The elephant on the table, of course, is Reyes the man.  A domestic violence charge, even one dropped, is no small matter.  There are those who believe that baseball’s decision to give him a second chance after his suspension was inappropriate, even though many domestic violence experts argue in favour of redemption.  Would giving Reyes that second chance (and the related support) be a positive or negative thing?

And there is also the question of the fan reaction.  While Reyes was originally a favourite in Toronto, by his departure in 2015 there were questions about his dedication, saying that Jose “smiled too much”.  But it is possible that the fans’ expectations were influenced by his $22 million salary and star status.  Might the 1.9 WAR/600 pace that Jose maintained in 2015 for the Jays be acceptable in 2018, as a bench backup and at a tenth the cost?

Next: The Good, Bad and the Ugly: Danny Barnes

The bottom line

Personally, I am in favour of redemption.  And I am not saying that because Reyes is a star – because he is not anymore.  But I could understand how bringing him back, even after two years without incident, could be criticized.  However, even putting the character issues aside, I am not sure which defensive metric to believe.  If DRS is right, Jose Reyes is not a fit.  If UZR/150 is right, he might well be.  The only certainty about a reunion with the former Blue Jay is that it would definitely get people talking!