MacArthur: Kawasaki demotion the business of baseball

Scott MacArthur
6/26/2013 2:51:13 AM
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - The business of baseball is raw. It is unemotional. It creates space for feel good stories, some with lengthy enough time spans to reel in a fan base, but if the subject of said narrative doesn't fit with the broader plan he will find himself back on the outside.

Today's subject: Munenori Kawasaki, who is packing his bags for a flight to Atlanta and a drive to nearby Lawrenceville. There, he will meet his Buffalo teammates, the Bisons, in the midst of a series against the Braves' Triple-A affiliate in Gwinnett County, Georgia.

It's the business of baseball. Jose Reyes is ready to return. Kawasaki has options, meaning he can be demoted without passing through waivers. It's the obvious move and the right move. It's also a bold move; surely general manager Alex Anthopoulos knows many Blue Jays' fans won't be happy.

Neither are Kawasaki's teammates. Not to say they disagree with the decision. It's just that Kawasaki left a unique impression.

"This is the part of the game that sucks," said Mark Buehrle. "Between the fans and the guys in here I think everybody's fallen in love with this guy. Come up here and done everything everybody's asked for him to do and probably plus more. This is the part, I think every guy in baseball, not what you do on the field but the business side of it, that's what sucks about it."

Buehrle went on to add, "I love the guy."

Buehrle's sentiment is the majority view in the clubhouse. Kawasaki commanded a large presence, one which belied his relatively diminutive stature. He mingled in broken English with those who speak English. He spoke in broken Spanish with the club's Latin contingent.

On the field, Kawasaki will be remembered for his two out, two-run, game-winning double which capped a four-run ninth inning in a 6-5 win over Baltimore on May 26.

Weeks later, on June 21, Kawasaki would hit an improbable two-run home run in the seventh to pull the Blue Jays into a 6-6 tie with those same Orioles. Toronto would win the game 7-6 and climb to .500 for the first time this season.

Manager John Gibbons, his finger on the pulse of his team, knew this was a delicate situation. He called an impromptu, brief team meeting after Tuesday night's 5-1 loss to the Rays to inform the players of the roster move.

That's atypical.

"It's tough to do," said Gibbons. "But the way it sets up, you know we want to keep our pitching intact. In that spot he wouldn't be playing much at all but it's tough. You feel for the kid, he did a tremendous job for us, but he'll be back."

Truth is Anthopoulos had few alternatives. Reliever Juan Perez, 34, is out of options. Were he to be designated for assignment, he assuredly would have been claimed on waivers. Perez has been effective, has experience and is making the major league minimum salary.

It's unlikely, due to the money he's owed, Dustin McGowan would have been scooped up had he been waived but, because of service time, McGowan has the right to refuse an assignment to the minor leagues. Given he can still throw a fastball 95 miles per hour after multiple shoulder surgeries, the Jays are eager to see if McGowan's a salvageable asset.

Neil Wagner was a non-starter. He's now a fixture in Gibbons' bullpen.

It's a credit to Kawasaki that on the day of Reyes' return to the Blue Jays, an important moment in this rollercoaster of a season, it's his demotion that has people talking.

Upon learning of the move, Kawasaki addressed the media with a message for his fans. There was nothing broken about the English.

"I love you guys," Kawasaki said.

The feeling is mutual.

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