The Blue Jays aren’t ready to move Brett Lawrie to second base full-time. But they are satisfied that he can handle the position, giving them alternatives both short- and long-term.
Lawrie, coming off a strained left rib cage muscle, played two games at second for Class A Dunedin on his rehabilitation assignment, but will be at third when he makes his season debut for the Jays on Tuesday night.
Which isn’t to say that he will remain at third every game as the Jays await the return of shortstop Jose Reyes, who is expected to be out three months with a sprained left ankle.
“It’s nice to have flexibility,” Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said Tuesday. “Brett’s our third baseman. (Jose) Bautista is our right fielder. This just gives us one more option. And that’s never a bad thing.”
Bautista prefers playing right, and believes he is better defensively at that position than at third base. But Anthopoulos said there might be games in the near future where Lawrie is at second and Bautista is at third.
Other Jays — Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion and Maicer Izturis; Adam Lind, Emilio Bonifacio and Mark DeRosa — offer multi-position flexibility. Lawrie struggled at second in the Brewers’ organization, last playing it at Double A in 2010. But he impressed Jays instructors in drills and games at Dunedin.
Not that the Jays are in any rush for him to change positions — Lawrie, 23, had the highest plus-minus rating of any third baseman last season according to Bill James Online. Then again, he is so athletic, he probably could succeed as a middle infielder, too.
The Jays had wanted to experiment with Lawrie at second since acquiring him for right-hander Shaun Marcum in December 2010. But they kept postponing the idea for a variety of reasons, ranging from their desire to see him master third to Lawrie’s need to prepare for the World Baseball Classic this spring.
“We’ve always wanted to know that we have it in our pocket and can do it,” Anthopoulos said. “We haven’t planned on it. But we know we can throw him out there with no problems now.”
The added flexibility should help not only manager John Gibbons when he constructs his lineups, but also Anthopoulos when he talks about future trades.
For example, if the Jays acquired Padres third baseman Chase Headley, they could move Lawrie to second. If they acquired Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, they could move Lawrie to second and Bautista at third.
Neither of those scenarios currently is in play, but neither is out of the question if the Jays are confident that Lawrie can handle second. Ditto for the eventual promotion of Class AAA outfielder Anthony Gose, another move that could force Bautista back to third.
— Ken Rosenthal