When Jose Reyes slid awkwardly into second base in Kansas City on Friday night and twisted his ankle badly enough that it will keep him out until July, it wasn’t just Toronto Blue Jays fans who feared that a season already off to a poor start was quickly about to get worse. Fantasy players who had spent a high draft pick or a sizable amount of auction dollars on Reyes were suddenly left with a giant hole to fill, and few options at a shallow position to fill it. Using a random 12-team ESPN league I’m in as an example, the best available shortstops on the waiver wire today are Everth Cabrera, Pete Kozma, and Marwin Gonzalez. That’s a pretty big step down from Reyes no matter how you slice it.
However, this isn’t all bad news from a fantasy perspective. Rather than simply slide the next man in to replace Reyes, as the Yankees have done with Eduardo Nunez while Derek Jeter is out, the Blue Jays are planning to engage in a game of musical chairs that will shuffle a few pieces of their lineup into greater fantasy relevance.
To be clear, no: I’m not talking about Munenori Kawasaki, who started at shortstop in each of the first two games Reyes missed. The 32-year-old had a single extra base hit and a .459 OPS in 115 plate appearances for Seattle last season, and isn’t to be considered a fantasy option even under the most extreme circumstances. But Kawasaki’s tenure is likely to be limited, because the current expectation is that Maicer Izturis — who has already started five games at third base and four at second — will slide over to short and collect the bulk of playing time.
In theory, that would open up more time for Emilio Bonifacio to play second base, as he did in eight of the first ten games of the season. But the Jays appear to have something else up their sleeves — third baseman Brett Lawrie, recovering from a rib cage injury, is now seeing time at second while rehabbing in the Florida State League. Lawrie came up as a second baseman in the minors, though he hasn’t played there since 2010. He’s expected to return to the Jays later this week and might pick up second base eligibility quickly if he proves he can handle it. Second base is one of the thinner offensive positions — in ESPN leagues, Daniel Murphy & Dan Uggla both have 100% ownership, so another option would be more than welcome.
If Lawrie is at second, that keeps third base open, and the answer there is not “Mark DeRosa“. The Jays have started Jose Bautista there in each of the last two days, and it won’t take much more for him to gain eligibility as well. That’s important because Bautista didn’t make a single start at the hot corner in 2012, costing him eligibility there. Third base, as we’ve seen with injuries to David Freese, Chase Headley, Hanley Ramirez, and others, is another position lacking in talent. Fantasy owners with plenty of outfielders but few acceptable infield options might just wake up in a few days to find themselves with the unexpected gift of being able to stash Bautista at third for the rest of the season.
With Bautista spending more time in the infield, right field is likely to fall to Bonifacio and Rajai Davis. That’s a big boost for Davis, who has been one of the most prolific basestealers in the league for the past several years, but who had seemed likely to lose playing time once newcomer Melky Cabrera joined Colby Rasmus & Bautista in the outfield. As a cheap source of speed and runs, Davis gains back some of his lost fantasy relevance and is deserving of a spot in deep mixed leagues and most AL-only circuits.
Remember, this isn’t a situation that has to last all season for it to be of use. At some point, Reyes will return, Lawrie will be at third base, and Bautista will be back in the outfield. But the newfound eligibility won’t go away, and so fantasy players can take solace at some small silver lining coming out of a bad situation.