Warm, lovable, eccentric baseball players are few and far between. The Blue Jays are fortunate enough to employ some of the brightest personalities in the game, none more radiant than Jose Reyes.
Or rather, none more radiant that call the Western Hemisphere home.
The Blue Jays' little bundle of Japanese Joy, Munenori Kawasaki, has been an absolute delight since his promotion to the Major League squad during the second week of the season. Dancing, doing head stands, giving memorable interviews, flashing "Lo Viste" and bowing all over the diamond, no one can deny the warmth provided by Mune.
Sadly, his first stint with the Blue Jays has come to a close, all too soon.
Kawasaki has been optioned to Triple-A Buffalo after Jose Reyes, whom Kawasaki originally replaced, was activated from the 60-day disabled list.
We knew Jose Reyes was going to come back and regain the starting SS position and continue to be the best SS in the whole wide world. Reyes is my favourite player on the team, the most talented, dynamic, extraordinary player cashing a pay cheque from Rogers Communications.
That makes this decision no more palatable.
Kawasaki became the heart and soul of the team over the past two-and-a-half months. When a player arrives in a club house, he usually finds a group of friends, perhaps of the same race or from the same geographic area, and bonds with said group. The Domincans click with the Domincans, the Southern Boys hang with the Southern Boys, the Californians find the Californians. Hey, it's human nature to be around those who make you feel most comfortable.
Munenori Kawasaki transcended all of this. The pitchers love him (Buehrle himself said the team would take money out of their own pockets to pay Kawasaki's salary), Bautista and the rest of the hispanic players love him, the coaches love him, the media loves him and the fans love him!
He's all heart. He loves the game. He plays the game the right way. He has a 0.8 WAR and a .337 OBP, ranking him 5th and 6th on the team, respectively. He plays average to above-average defence. He's not the most talented player on the team - far from it - but what he brings to the table is a fun-loving attitude that reminds the players of why they decided to pick up a bat and glove to begin with; for the love of the game.
The thing that annoys me the most about this decision is the amount of options available for the Blue Jays to use. The Blue Jays are one of, if not the only, team that carries 8 relievers, some of which see game action once a week (hello, Dustin McGowan).
Juan Perez has been with the team for about a month, but he would have to be placed on waivers to be sent back to Buffalo. Admittedly, he'd likely be claimed. The aforementioned McGowan, according to this post over at DJF, can veto a demotion to the Minor Leagues due to service time accumulated (while on the DL, might I add). In doing so, he would opt for free agency, leaving the Blue Jays on the hook for his remaining salary, a healthy 2.8 million smackers.
Some of the relievers, like Neil Wagner and Aaron Loup, have options, like Kawasaki, meaning they can be sent to the Minor Leagues without the possibility of other teams claiming them. Loup has been with the team since last July and has been superb, so I didn't expect him to be the odd man out. Wagner has been with the team about as long as Perez and he got the nod over Kawasaki. The Blue Jays could have taken a chance sending down Perez or McGowan, or could have chosen the fool-proof option of sending down Wagner as insurance for the big league roster.
All Alex Anthopoulos has talked about in recent memory is pitching depth, especially in the Minor Leagues. Here was an opportunity to stash a guy or two in the Minor League bullpen until someone with the big league club struggled. Instead, they chose a player who has been quite valuable for the team, both on and off the field.
This is what happens, I suppose, when teams train their relievers to go out for one-inning stints. The team has to use up 3 pitchers even if their starter goes 6-innings. If they had Cecil, Loup, Delabar and even Wagner and Perez log 2 or 3 innings an outing, an 8-men bullpen would be out of the question! Heck, even 7 might be too many in that scenario.
But alas, you can never have enough pitching, as the old adage goes, even if some of the hurlers do only see an outing per week.
It's worth saying that Kawasaki's tenure was to surely to end when Brett Lawrie returns to the line-up in 3 weeks. None-the-less, keeping him around as long as possible would have showed the players, the coaches and the fans what hard work, a pleasant personality, and sheer joy can do for one's baseball career and in turn, the success of their team.
Fare thee well, Mune. Yes, you are a Japaneeeeeese.