- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
At this point, fantasy owners are simply eager to see Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie out on the diamond playing, let alone thinking about which position he'll be. Over the weekend, though, the Blue Jays announced a bit of a shocker, that Lawrie, on the mend from an oblique strain and having not appeared in the big leagues yet this season, will play second base as part of his rehab assignment. It seems like odd timing, but if it's emulated in the major leagues, there are clear fantasy repercussions.
For one, adding second base eligibility to his existing third base qualification would be quite a coup for his existing fantasy owners. The depth of these positions doesn't really match up, as people who own Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes can tell you as they desperately search for unfulfilling middle-infield replacements. Lawrie has earned a reputation in his short career as a brittle player, which we hope he'll overcome, but any time extra eligibility is added, especially this one, it adds value. If Lawrie had had second-base eligibility for 2013 drafts, he surely would have been selected well before the seventh round, for me at least a round better.
Lawrie was a second baseman in the low minor leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers, though there are varying opinions on his proficiency there because he was ultimately moved. Last year, he was one of baseball's finest third basemen using advanced metrics, so in a way, the Blue Jays seem willing to give up defense in order to get more offense. Slugging outfielder Jose Bautista already moved back to third base this weekend, a position he knows well, and could add eligibility in a week. We're all for this in the fantasy world, unless you think defensive distractions affect offensive production, which I don't.
But all of this seems a bit moot if the Blue Jays don't use the open spot in right field for a serious bat. The team could use some combination of Emilio Bonifacio, Rajai Davis and newcomer Casper Wells there, or promote speedy prospect Anthony Gose from Triple-A Buffalo. Gose isn't off to a noteworthy start and he was awfully overwhelmed at the plate with the big club last year, but he's an exceptional defender and could steal many bases this season. Davis isn't much of an on-base threat, though he is a bit underowned in ESPN leagues because he could steal 40 bases even in a part-time role. Wells hits lefties well, but not right-handers. Perhaps the Blue Jays can acquire an outfielder more easily than a fill-in middle infielder.
Another impetus for this potential move is the early struggles of Bonifacio, both at second base (four errors already) and at the plate, where his .209 batting average is really hollow because he has just one walk in 44 plate appearances. He offers no power and hasn't even attempted a stolen base, which is pretty much his calling card. Bonifacio just might not be playable in the infield anymore. If he was thriving at second base, none of these other moves would be necessitated. Alas, they are.
Still, Bonifacio will get to play and, like Davis, should be able to steal many bases without many at-bats. Lawrie is probably at least another week away from returning from the disabled list. He suffered the rib injury in an exhibition game prior to the World Baseball Classic five weeks ago. For the record, Bonifacio needs one more game at second base to trigger eligibility there. He's far more palatable there than as outfield-only.
Reyes' injury, as noted in Saturday's blog entry, is a big one, not only for fantasy owners but also for the Blue Jays, who don't have a suitable shortstop on the roster and have lacked offense. Moving Lawrie and Bautista is their way of helping the offense, which has hit .228 in the team's disappointing 5-7 start. We shall see, but fantasy owners should be prepared to act. I think Lawrie can still flirt with a 20-homer, 20-steal season, and good luck naming more than a few middle-infield-eligible players who can do that.
While we're talking eligibility, did you notice that New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano played an inning at shortstop on Saturday? Check your league rules; maybe one game is enough to add eligibility. In standard ESPN formats, one would need 20 games from the previous season, 10 games in-season. I doubt Cano plays another inning at short, but still, as someone who was once able to make Kirby Puckett my regular second baseman, it can certainly help! In the same game Saturday, catcher Francisco Cervelli moved to Cano's second base spot. That's just not quite as exciting!
It's a bit early to discuss other big-picture items when it comes to eligibility, but here are a few notes:
• Houston Astros slugger Chris Carter is a few days away from adding outfield eligibility. He was first base from last season. First base is deep, so moving Carter to your outfield is a gain. Chris Parmelee of the Minnesota Twins is in the same situation.
• And finally, for those of you in one-game eligibility leagues, San Diego Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso, barely worth a look in standard leagues at that position, played an inning at second base and was listed as a third baseman in a game last week. Nice!