Blue Jays: Analyzing the September roster expansion decisions

TORONTO, ON - MAY 17: Bradley Zimmer #7 of the Toronto Blue Jays in the dugout during their MLB game against the Seattle Mariners at Rogers Centre on May 17, 2022 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MAY 17: Bradley Zimmer #7 of the Toronto Blue Jays in the dugout during their MLB game against the Seattle Mariners at Rogers Centre on May 17, 2022 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

Earlier this week, the Toronto Blue Jays reclaimed outfielder Bradley Zimmer off of waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies. The Jays DFA’d him after they activated George Springer from the IL a couple of weeks ago and had no more space on the roster with the Jackie Bradley Jr. signing, as Zimmer no longer had MiLB options due to his previous seasons with the Cleveland Guardians.

After the Jays announced that news, general manager Ross Atkins confirmed that the lefty batter would indeed take one of the expanded roster spots on September 1st, pretty much putting to rest any chance of seeing Gabriel Moreno or Otto Lopez rejoin the squad as the month flipped over into September. Everyone knew the next spot was going to be for a bullpen arm, we just didn’t know who until yesterday.

The Blue Jays made the expansion news official, with Zimmer and right-hander Casey Lawerence occupying the two spots heading into the weekend series in Pittsburgh.

The initial reaction was a bit confusing, as it looked like the Jays were poised to call up Zach Pop or potentially have Julian Merryweather come off the IL to take the additional bullpen spot. Upon further review, it appears the move to bring up Lawerence was based more on what the Jays need heading into the weekend, as well as the limitations of the options process.

An in-depth look at the Blue Jays decision to use their two additional roster spots on RHP Casey Lawerence and OF Bradley Zimmer.

Pop was sent back to the minors on August 23rd, and as per the MLB glossary page regarding Minor League options, a pitcher optioned to the MiLB must remain there at least for 15 days unless said player is an injury replacement or the additional player for a doubleheader game.

For Pop, his 15th day is this Monday, September 5th, so it makes sense why the Jays could not call upon him just yet. Merryweather on the other hand is eligible to come off the 60-day IL as of a couple of days ago, so the choice to not call him up and keep him rehabbing in Buffalo may have more to do with what Lawerence provides to the roster as well as the fact that Merryweather joining the club means one additional player has to be dropped from the full 40-man roster.

In AAA, Lawerence has been fantastic, authoring a 2.76 ERA through 20 starts and 111.0 innings of work with a 7.5 K/9 and a minuscule 1.4 BB/9. He can give the Blue Jays some depth down in the bullpen as a middle reliever/long man, but that strong play has not transcended to the big leagues yet this season.

Through five appearances earlier this year, Lawerence has surrendered 20 hits through 15.2 innings of work, allowing 14 earned runs and five home runs in the process. A majority of those runs did come from his last two outings in early July but overall, the 2022 campaign has not been pretty for Lawerence at the big league level. Again, Lawerence is a pitcher who can give the Jays some depth and could give the Blue Jays some valuable innings this weekend against the Pirates, especially since the Jays have a doubleheader coming up on Monday against Baltimore and likely want to keep some relievers fresh for those two games.

For Zimmer, the news of his rejoining of the squad is a bit puzzling, only because it appears that the Jays have such a large group of outfielders on the bench and George Springer appears healthy enough to play centre field on a regular basis.

He now joins Raimel Tapia and Jackie Bradley Jr. on the bench, with Whit Merrifield and Cavan Biggio also able to take reps in the outfield as required. We all knew Zimmer’s role on the squad was geared more towards being a pinch runner or defensive replacement late in the game but with Tapia, Merrifield, and Bradley Jr. already on the roster, it seems like that role could have been taken over already, especially since Tapia and Bradley Jr. are both lefty batters. Zimmer did find his bat during his short stint in Philadelphia, collecting four hits through 16 at-bats.

If Springer starts to DH more down the stretch, bringing Zimmer back into the fold makes more sense considering there is that additional bench option should the Jays need him as a defensive replacement or pinch runner. Otherwise, this move is still a bit puzzling, as the Jays could have likely used another bat on the bench.

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While both Lawerence and Zimmer are with the squad now, it likely isn’t the last we have seen some of the other players I mentioned earlier, as there is a chance Blue Jays fans will see Merryweather, Pop, or potentially Nate Pearson at some point in September, and maybe even Lopez or Moreno if there is a subsequent DFA move of one of the other bench players.