SARASOTA, Fla. — Are you ready for this Blue Jays fans?
Are you sitting down?
Three days before the Jays play host to the Minnesota Twins and open their 2011 season, manager John Farrell announced Tuesday that they have ditched the Jose Bautista at third base, Juan Rivera in right field experiment and will open the season with Bautista back in right, Rivera as the DH and — drum roll please — Edwin Encarnacion back as the third baseman.
Yup, the same old Steady Eddie, otherwise known as E-5.
The reason for the switch is not to placate any desire of Bautista, their 54-home run big star, to return to right field. Neither is it that they believe that Encarnacion, who committed 18 errors in just 95 games at third last season, has suddenly transformed into the second coming of Scott Rolen, although that’s the party line.
“We feel that it gives us not only the same lineup, but the best defensive alignment on the field,” Farrell said for the reason behind the switch. “For the betterment of our team, that’s where this is going.”
The reason, which they won’t come out and say, is that Rivera has shown this spring that he is not up to snuff defensively in right. He has absolutely no range, no speed of foot and does not possess the strong arm needed for a right fielder.
Jays fans may be kicking in their TV sets at the thought of Encarnacion back at third — and just how adventurous are those throws to first going to be now that Adam Lind is on the receiving end instead of the defensively gifted Lyle Overbay.
But unless you’ve been at spring training and watched fly balls whiz by and over Rivera you can’t appreciate how lacking he was defensively.
Rivera and his $5.25 million contract, was the price the Jays had to pay along with C Mike Napoli to peddle Vernon Wells and his massive contract to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The thinking at the time was the Jays would try and flip Rivera to another team but to date there have been no takers.
In the interim, Rivera has been sort of a dead man walking at the Jays camp. He has not taken his miserable situation to the field, though, as at the plate as he is hitting .377 (20-for-53) with two homers and seven RBIs.
For however long he remains with the Jays, Rivera will now become the DH, the spot that was originally slotted for Encarnacion and be the backup for the corner outfield spots.
While Farrell and good friend Bautista were talking up Encarnacion’s talents and the fact he worked hard in the off-season, came into camp about 10-12 pounds lighter and has exhibited better footwork at third when he’s played there, there is little doubt that he is holding the spot for Canada’s Brett Lawrie, who will open the season at triple-A Las Vegas.
Lawrie, of Langley, B.C., was a second baseman when the Jays acquired him in the off-season for Shaun Marcum but once a Blue Jay, was converted to third.
Despite it being a new position as a pro, Lawrie wowed everybody this spring by his play in the field, his approach at the plate, his explosiveness out of the box and on the bases and the high energy that he brings to everything that he does.
With Bautista no longer at third and back in his comfort zone in right, you have to think that Lawrie is that much closer to the big leagues than just a few days ago.
Last week when he was sent to minor-league camp, Farrell made a point of saying that they didn’t think he’d be in the minors for long.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos has stated on many occasion that his team was a work in progress and the moves made Tuesday are an extension of that thinking.
The Jays simply decided that moving Rivera off the field made them better defensively overall, made them a better team.
In no short order, the better team concept will bring them Lawrie at third.
The moves Tuesday are just the tipoff on what promises to be an entertaining and fluid season.