You don’t need me to tell you that second base has not been kind to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2017. With a 77 wRC+ going into Sunday’s games, their second baseman rank 25th in baseball in offensive production. Four different players have played the position for the Blue Jays this season, and all four of them have struggled offensively. With Devon Travis looking like he will be out for the remainder of the season after knee surgery, the bulk of playing time has gone to the likes of Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney, two players who are less inspiring with the bat than Sam Dyson is on the mound against Jose Bautista.
Obviously, the Blue Jays cannot continue to run those players out onto the field everyday and expect to receive production. John Gibbons has told the media that they will continue to shuffle them into and out of the lineup until one of them gets hot and takes control of the position full time. While Gibbons falling prey to the notion that a batter who is hot will continue to be hot is a concern, the larger concern is that he is actually correct that at the moment, that scenario is the Blue Jays’ best option.
It’s June 19th, and with another six weeks before the MLB Trade Deadline, teams are not willing to make big deals because so much can change in the standings before July 31st. Before Sunday’s games started, just five games separated last place in the American League and a playoff spot. Giving up on the season at this point for a club that is that close to a playoff spot is not a good look.
While the Blue Jays are looking for trade partners to fix their second base situation, it just isn’t possible at the moment. A club source said that they are trying to focus on buying players to help fill the holes in left field, second base, and in the bullpen, but instead are getting calls on Roberto Osuna (the Nationals keep trying) and Josh Donaldson (the Cardinals are one of those teams). The Blue Jays had internal discussions about New York Mets second baseman Neil Walker according to the same source, but now that he has been placed on the disabled list with a torn left hamstring, those conversations are moot until at least the All-Star Break. All of these trade discussions are in their preliminary stages, as most deals won’t be consummated until the end of July, so that really leaves the Blue Jays with only one other option to Barney and Goins, and that is in the form of Jason Leblebijian.
The case to call up Leblebijian from the Buffalo Bisons has been made across the internet for weeks, even by our own Elie Waitzer. The argument goes that Barney and Goins have been so bad in 2017, that Leblebijian, who is batting .306/.375/.500, has to be able to be better than them if given the opportunity at the big league level. Elie even compared Leblebijian’s numbers to Dansby Swanson’s to strengthen his case, and came away with a strong argument that Leblebijian would in fact be an upgrade over Goins and Barney. However, the flaw in this argument, and all the other ones that support calling Leblebijian up from the minors to be given the starting job, is that the Blue Jays are aware of the talent possessed by all three players. I’d even go as far as suggesting that they are more aware of Leblebijian’s ability, along with Goins’ and Barney’s, than we as fans are.
ZiPS rest of season projections project Darwin Barney for a .620 OPS for the rest of the season, and Ryan Goins for a .595 OPS. Although those numbers are astonishingly terrible, the Blue Jays and their talent evaluators don’t seem to believe Leblebijian would be able to top them at the big league level. The obvious move for months now has been to call up Leblebijian and give him playing time at second base. Clearly, the Blue Jays would have made that move already if they believed it to be the right one. However, even from only viewing his stats, there are reasons to be skeptical of Leblebijian’s AAA success – his .363 BABIP comes to mind as the most glaring one. Combine that with scouts who see Leblebijian often, it starts to make a lot more sense as to why he is still in Buffalo and not a couple of hours north at the Rogers Centre.
In 2013, the Buffalo Bisons had an infielder named Jim Negrych. From April until the end of June, Negrych was tearing the cover off of the ball, batting .332/.398/.475. Throughout those three months, sections of fans were clamouring for him to be called up to replace the messy combination of Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis. The Blue Jays did not make a move, and Negrych, who at the time was 28-years-old and never played in the big leagues, ended the season by hitting .203/.295/.225 from July through September. I’m not saying the 26-year-old Jason Leblebijian is Jim Negrych, but there were reasons why the Blue Jays didn’t call Negrych up then, and there are reasons why the Blue Jays aren’t calling up Leblebijian now.
It’s tough to watch Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney play everyday and continue to look like they are completely overmatched. However, there truly is no better option at this point, so we just have to sit and wait until the Blue Jays are able to upgrade next month, which, if they are still in the race, seems almost guaranteed to happen. Until then, when you see the second baseman coming up to bat, avert your eyes and take your mind to a happy place.
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