Gaston “Managing” 21-Man Roster in Toronto

It was a fairly minor note in the MLB transaction wire yesterday, but it irked me.

Toronto Blue Jays released 1B Randy Ruiz

Ruiz has left the Blue Jays to explore an opportunity to play overseas in Japan. And frankly, I don’t blame him. The 32-year-old first baseman – with just 198 career at-bats entering the 2010 season – made the Toronto Blue Jays’ opening day 25-man roster but he accumulated a total of 40 at-bats in the Jays’ first 41 games. Much like Toronto’s other bench players – John McDonald, Mike McCoy, and Jose Molina – Ruiz barely received playing time, even in late-game situations as a defensive replacement or as a pinch hitter. He hit just .150/.150/.275, but you can hardly fault his lack of offense given the number of appearances and at-bats. It was clear every time that he came to the plate that he was pressing and trying to jack the ball out of the park.

Realistically, Ruiz was never going to be anything more than a bench player… or possibly a part of a platoon situation. He posted some solid minor league numbers (winning the Pacific Coast League MVP last season) and hit very well for Toronto in a small opportunity in ’09 (.313/.385/.635 in 130 at-bats). The issue with Ruiz is a symptom of a bigger problem with the club.

In a very small sample size (17 at-bats), Ruiz – despite his struggles with the bat – out-hit regular first baseman Lyle Overbay against southpaws (.414 vs .351 OPS). In other words, giving Ruiz a shot at the platoon would not have been the worse idea in the world. This is supposed to be a rebuilding time in Toronto… as in a time when you give players a shot to see what they have to offer.

And this is not a new trend for the incumbent first baseman, who is in the last year of a multi-year contract. Overbay’s career OPS versus left-handers is .696 and against right-handers it’s .842. During his resurgent 2009 season, the club all but platooned Overbay and his OPS split was .534 vs LHPs, .905 vs RHPs. To be frank, he’s killed his fair share of rallies this season by hitting out of the five hole. At the very least, he should be hitting eighth or ninth in the lineup when manager Cito Gaston insists on having him face left-handers (which is all but inevitable at this point).

Ruiz, though, may have been the smart one. He might actually get a chance to play in Japan.

I worry that the Jays’ regulars will be gassed by the second half of the season with little to no rest. When we look at the other bench players, McDonald has just 40 at-bats himself, and that’s taking into consideration the time that fellow infielders Aaron Hill and Edwin Encarnacion missed while on the disabled list. McDonald has made just three appearances in May, which is inexcusable and a poor use of the roster. McCoy, who can play both the infield and outfield, has 42 at-bats on the year, but he’s made a whopping six appearances in May (five at-bats). He, like McDonald, has value as a defensive replacement, as well as a pinch runner. Molina has had 41 at-bats and could certainly take a little pressure off of No. 1 catcher John Buck, who has appeared in 34 games and has caught the ninth most innings in the Majors. All four players have been on the roster all season long and healthy.

I realize that the Jays have a number of hot hitters, like Vernon Wells, Alex Gonzalez, and Jose Bautista, but the situation is bordering on ridiculous. Cito’s commitment to his regulars is going to come back to bite the club in the butt.

Apparently the manager, who is due to retire at the end of 2010, doesn’t realize that he’s supposed to stop managing on Oct. 3.

He’s clearly gotten an early start on his retirement.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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12 years ago

Geez. More Canadian bias from Fangraphs. Ha ha has any non-hockey site ever been accused of that? Just kidding you guys.