C'mon, admit it... you thought it, too.
In a way, I can understand the reasoning. Putting aside for a moment all the feels the fanbase had for its Canadian bro, acquiring a utility player like Lawrie could be beneficial for any team. Sure, he's no Ben Zobrist (eeeeaasssyyy there, Zaun), but having a player that can play multiple positions in the infield, especially one that comes off the bench, is a luxury that most clubs would be willing to invest in. The problem is, we've seen this episode before and we know how it ends. We can get into the off-the-field stuff a little bit later on. Right now I want to focus on why (re-)signing Lawrie isn't in the best interest of the Blue Jays based on what he's shown on the field. The off-the-field stuff is fun to talk about, sure. But having never been in a major league clubhouse, ever, and knowing how sometimes these things tend to get blown out of proportion, I don't want anything based on mere speculation to be the center of this piece.
Since even before the biggest lopsided trade in Blue Jays history, Lawrie has had a difficult time staying healthy. Even after his tenure with the Jays, Lawrie has never been able to play a full season of baseball in the major leagues. This could be a result of his reckless abandon-esq style of play, willing to put his body on the line for the sake of an out while playing the field, but rarely has it done him any real favors. Numbers don't lie. In 2012-14 as a Blue Jay, he was only able to play 125, 107, & 70 games respective of those years, due to injury.
Surprisingly, most of his injury concerns while with the Jays came from his obliques. This is never particularly encouraging for a player, as such core muscles are absolutely imperative for one to be able to play at a high level. The ability to have a strong core allows a player to have a robust center of gravity, which enables them to move and react quicker with greater range of motion. Specifically when playing an infield position, suffering such an injury more or less debilitates a player from performing necessary motions - i.e. fielding ground balls while moving laterally. Lawrie suffered injuries to his obliques in all three of the aforementioned years with the Blue Jays (2012 - right oblique, 2013 - left oblique, 2014 - left oblique).
Now, one way to mitigate the risk of injury is to perhaps scale it back a bit with Lawrie, both in terms of how he plays and the amount of time he (ideally) plays. Jesse Levine of Jays Journal suggests a similar sentiment, noting that maybe the Jays could bring Lawrie in as a player that sort of "fills in" for everyday players. For instance, if Donaldson needs a break from playing third base, or if Devon Travis isn't ready for the start of the season at second base, it may take the pressure off of Lawrie as he wouldn't be relied upon as heavily as he would if he was approached as an everyday player. Thus, if his playing time is limited and he's only being used as a utility player that comes off the bench, it would also mitigate his risk of injury. Thing is, the Jays already have that guy, minus the concerns.
Considering Lawrie's slash line from 2016 - .248/.310/.413 - with a strikeout rate of 28.4% while playing only 94 games for the White Sox and comparing it to Darwin Barney's 2016 line - .269/.322/.373 - with a strikeout rate of 16.8% over the course of 104 games, you can see that the difference isn't really that big. If the Jays were to bring in Lawrie to address the concern at second base with the giant question mark hovering over Devon Travis, one could argue that it would be a bit redundant, as they already have that player in Barney without the injury history. Sooo.... why waste the dollars? I suppose one could argue that Barney has reached his peak and won't be anything more than what he is, whereas Lawrie still has a bit of unreached potential. But does he? With just about 5 years worth of big league experience, I think we can safely conclude that Lawrie is what he has shown - he's good. That's it. Not great, not spectacular, not amazing. He's good.
Jays fans just love their prospects, and Lawrie was no exception before he made his debut. There was a lot of promise that he could be a player that the Jays could build around, and become the face of the franchise. His debut with the Jays didn't allude to the contrary, as he had a slash line of .293/.373/.580, with an OPS of .953 with 171 plate appearances and a strikeout rate of 18.1% in 43 games. There's no denying that those numbers, at the time, were beyond encouraging and Lawrie's future looked crazy bright. The problem is, he was never able to replicate that again, as he slowly became what we see today. At what point are Jays fans able to let his 2011 debut go and admit that it's more of a sentimental attachment than a desire for a player that the Jays could really use?
This is based really on the analytics. When factoring in all the feels and the nostalgia, we can get into the real reason why some Jays fans would love to see him back in blue. I mean absolutely no disrespect when I say this, but a lot of Jays fans just love having Canadian athletes on their home teams, and for good reason! Toronto is one of the - if not the - proudest fanbase I have ever come to know, and this is coming from a guy that lives amongst the shittiness and obnoxiousness that is the New England sports fanbase. But at what point is being Canadian just not enough? Sure, it's fun to reminisce over the Team Unit days with Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia, and Ricky Romero, but how quickly fans forget how unproductive that Blue Jays team was. There's a reason why Lawrie went from being untouchable to being traded to Oakland while he was - at the very least - one of the most popular Blue Jays players at the time. I'm sure the Front Office isn't blind to the positive PR that comes from signing a Canadian player, but I'm also sure that the caveat has to be that the player has to be at least useful. The fact is, while all those Red Bull fueled moments of Brett Lawrie diving into camera bays were cool, they simply aren't something that can be used by the current Blue Jays team. Based on the needs of the Jays, I'd personally much rather move forward with having Barney/Goins as backup infielders than bringing Lawrie come back into the picture and having too many cooks in the kitchen. Sure, Barney is what he is, but at least there's still somewhat of a chance that Goins could progress and develop further. That alone may not be worth bringing Lawrie in. Do we really want to stunt Goins' growth for the sake of nostalgia? Is Lawrie really worth that to you? I don't think so.
I haven't even gotten to the off-field stuff, and that's mostly because I didn't want it to be the focus (as I mentioned earlier). Again, I'm hard-pressed to even address it because I literally have no experience with Lawrie outside of the scope as a spectator, so doing so is a bit irresponsible. But based on how he left both Oakland and Chicago for basically nothing, that alone should give you an idea of what both franchises thought of him. You can talk about how there's still so much potential, but if a player comes with baggage and has a not-so-great reputation, there comes a point where potential isn't enough to keep anything remotely close to toxic in the clubhouse. Now, again, I don't know if Lawrie is a toxic presence in the locker-room. Maybe it's just a case of his personality not meshing well with other athletes. It's certainly possible.
Yet, we can't ignore how Lawrie is still only 27 years old and has bounced around four different organizations in his career as a ball player (Milwaukee, Toronto, Oakland, and Chicago). He's well on his way to becoming a journeyman. While I hate to jump to conclusions here, the common dominator is probably Lawrie. Sure, I suppose the anomaly amongst those four clubs would be Toronto, as they pulled off the ultimate sell-high by dealing him (if you want to call it a sell-high) and acquiring Josh Donaldson (who became MVP the following year), but otherwise Lawrie has been moved around for next to nothing, as he hasn't been able to reach that "unreached potential." At this point, it's becoming much easier to conclude that the reason why he hasn't reached it is because he's climbed as high as he can. With Lawrie, what you see is what you get. Andrew Stoeten touched on a similar sentiment of Lawrie in one of his latest pieces, stating -
"...the fact that a guy who just turned 27 last winter, who comes with such a huge prospect pedigree, who was a key piece in a trade for Josh fucking Donaldson just two years ago, and has hardly been awful as a big leaguer, is about to move on to his fifth organization speaks kinda loudly (then chugs a Red Bull and crushes the can on its head). Which... y'know?"
Like a romantic relationship that didn't work out, it's fun to think about the what if's. But at the end of the day you come to realize that what didn't work out back then is exactly the same as what (still) won't work out right now. Nostalgia and Canadian blood isn't enough.
UPDATE 1:25 pm
As soon as I posted this article, MLBTR tweets the following -
That's so Tampa.
UPDATE 5:16 pm
Welp! According to Jim Bowden of ESPN, maybe the Jays do have some interest in Lawrie after all! He tweets,
Soooo..... maybe my assessment was way off? Maybe, but I still stand by that bringing Lawrie in would be a bit redundant. That, and "have interest in" could mean so many things that it could just be nothing substantial. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.
But who am I, right?
Uhhhh... I guess, that's so Toronto? Jesus...