According to Ken Rosenthal, the Toronto Blue Jays are likely to trade Emilio Bonifacio this week. The Blue Jays aren’t completely out of the running in 2013 – but they’re close. Why? Bonifacio isn’t particularly expensive and he isn’t going to be a free agent following the season. Certain other veterans are both.
Here’s my take: Ownership has sunk a lot of money into the 2013 team, generated some high expectations, but has not seen results. They’re faced with a serious quandary: they’re built to win now, but they aren’t. They want very much to reboot the 2013 season, but obviously they can’t. They – most importantly maybe – emphatically do not want to send fans the signal that the current team isn’t any good and that an overhaul would be necessary to have a realistic expectation of a playoff run. They would love to finish the season strong and be able to say “if only it wasn’t for that slow start…”. So while they wouldn’t really be averse to trading big leaguers for minor leaguers, necessarily, they want to trade guys that aren’t needed to help them win right now and don’t figure into next year’s plans. Not a lot of guys would fit that bill, Bonifacio would. Think of him as Toronto’s Phil Coke.
Now, despite the fact that Bonifacio has not had a good 2013 campaign (.214/.254/.314 and -0.5 WAR) there are probably a number of teams that could use him – the Blue Jays just wouldn’t be one. He’s a 28-year-old, switch-hitting utility guy with speed and though he’s no titan with the bat, hasn’t been this bad over the long haul. One of those teams – I would imagine – would be the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers have injury-related uncertainty with Omar Infante (who doesn’t look like he’s going to be making a quick recovery from the hit that Rasmus put on him) and suspension-related uncertainty with Jhonny Peralta. Both guys are free agents at the end of the season, as is Ramon Santiago (who isn’t hitting or fielding very well regardless).
There are likely to be a lot of innings at second and short that are going to need to go to someone at or below replacement level OR someone currently not in the Tigers organization. It’s tough to argue sometimes that the answer to your problems is a guy who is currently someone else’s problem, but sometimes that’s an accurate expectation. Bonifacio will probably hit better than he has so far this year – his career BABIP is .329 due to line drives and good legs, this year it’s .269. Statistically speaking, it’s pretty obvious what has gone wrong for Bonifacio: his ISO is elevated, but he is swinging at too many pitches, especially ones out of the zone. That’s a common occurrence when a guy is fighting desperately for playing time and needs to make an impression. Walks don’t get you back in the lineup, doubles do. Anyway, I think Bonifacio is likely to produce numbers much more like his career averages if he is removed from Toronto and given regular starts.
Defensively, he has been used all over the diamond in his time in Miami and Toronto. If you look at numbers, he has been a bad centerfielder and shortstop (though not terrible at either position) an average second baseman or third baseman and a pretty good corner outfielder. Given how difficult the respective positions are to play, that’s all logical – it’s just what you’d expect from one guy who is able to play basically anywhere. If the Tigers want to put him in at second right now while Infante is on the shelf – he’ll do just fine. If they wind up wanting him to shift to short while Peralta serves a suspension, he could at least get the job done.
According to Jeff Passan at Yahoo! Sports, the current buzz about the Biogenesis affair is that pretty much everybody is going to cut deals rather than appealing suspensions. Evidence is apparently pretty overwhelming, making the likelihood of winning that appeal slight. Since punishments are not going to be handed out in the normal 50-games-for-positive-test framework, punishments will be longer for those who appeal. Now imagine, for a moment, that literally everyone but Peralta is going to agree to serve their suspensions starting this weekend… (we’ll ignore the ARod fiasco). If Peralta risks missing half of the 2014 season if he appeals – what are the Tigers going to have to do to convince him not take a deal? Would anything work? To get Peralta to appeal, the Tigers might have to go as far as to extend him for at least one more year – and if they did, they might have no shortstop up to the 2014 All-Star break. And then even if he did appeal, if the arbitrator only has one case to hear (reportedly, ARod is going to get dealt with for hurting the “integrity of the game” and wouldn’t even get a chance for a hearing) it would seem much more likely that the appeal would be wrapped up during the season.
It’s my personal belief that a team like the Tigers with World Series aspirations needs an insurance policy for Peralta, and that insurance policy cannot be Ramon Santiago. If Peralta doesn’t serve a 2013 suspension, Bonifacio wouldn’t have nearly so much value to the 2013 club. But that wouldn’t be the only reason to acquire him. The 2014 club could use him too – and this is particularly true if the Tigers wound up holding a suspended JP. Bonifacio would be due something like $3 million in arbitration next year, but would be under team control. If you feel he’s at least potentially worthy of a starting job (and there are very, very few options on the free agent market in the middle infield for next year) that’s definitely worth it. The Tigers would be in a position of wanting to sign either Peralta OR Infante rather than both and being able to put a competitive team on their field with neither – should negotiations go poorly.