The Ballad of Brett Lawrie
Just over six years ago, the Toronto Blue Jays acquired Brett Lawrie from the Milwaukee Brewers for Shaun Marcum.
At the time, the deal was heralded as a win for the Blue Jays. The club sold high on Marcum, who had established career highs the previous season, and only had one year left of team control. In exchange, the Jays received second base prospect Brett Lawrie
Judging by his play early on, Lawrie was supposed to lead the Blue Jays to the promised land. Lawrie accomplished that feat, but in a roundabout away … because the player the Blue Jays traded for him – Josh Donaldson – led the Blue Jays to the promised land.
That was the tail-end of Lawrie’s time with the Blue Jays, but merely a footnote in the ballad of Brett Lawrie.
The latest news coming last week, as the Chicago White Sox released Brett Lawrie and the Blue Jays having interest in their former full-tilt infielder.
Lawrie’s Torrid Start
But let’s go back to the beginning, shall we? As mentioned, the Blue Jays acquired Lawrie in December of 2010. In terms of prospects, Lawrie broke into the big leagues very early; within two years, he was playing for the Blue Jays.
Brett Lawrie was called up on August 5th 2011 and what he accomplished during the remained of that season was nothing short of spectacular. In the span of 43 games, Lawrie clubbed nine home runs, posted an OPS of .953 and amassed 2.6 WAR.
For position players on the roster, only Jose Bautista (8.1 WAR) and Yunel Escobar (3.5 WAR) bested Brett Lawrie when it came to Wins Above Replacement in 2011 for the Blue Jays. However, Bautista and Escobar had the benefit of playing 133-plus games that year; Lawrie only played 43.
It was a very promising start to the 21 year-old’s career and Lawrie’s breakout in 2011 painted indicated a bright future for the Blue Jays.
Injuries and Clubhouse Issues Take Their Toll
Update (as of March 2017)
Brett Lawrie days missed due to injury: 264
Josh Donaldson games missed due to injury: 9 https://t.co/yizidadec4
— Ian Hunter (@BlueJayHunter) March 4, 2017
After his whirlwind debut in late 2011, the hype was enormous for Brett Lawrie to be the next Blue Jays superstar. He was revered for playing the game with incredible intensity and fearlessness. I believe the Tao of Stieb aptly described Lawrie as “full-tilt”.
If ever there was a Blue Jay who played with reckless abandon, it was Brett Lawrie. The same energy that allowed Lawrie to make incredibly athletic plays in the field also got him into trouble; his diving play into the camera well at Yankee Stadium was the perfect illustration.
In 2012, Lawrie missed 32 games due to injuries. In 2013, he missed 54 due to a rib injury and a sprained ankle. When Brett Lawrie was healthy and on the field, he was a tremendous asset for the Blue Jays. But staying healthy was a challenge for Brett Lawrie during his tenure as a Blue Jay.
Lawrie’s aforementioned intensity may have also rubbed some people the wrong way. There was the helmet throwing incident with home plate umpire Bill Miller. Then there was Brett Lawrie’s spat with John Gibbons after Adam Lind failed to tag up and score on a fly ball.Brett Lawrie voices his displeasure about Adam Lind not tagging up, and John Gibbons snaps back.
Apparently, all those things started to add up.
By the end of the 2014 season, the Blue Jays front office made a concerted effort to rid their clubhouse of supposed “malcontents”. Players were never named, but Lawrie was among the many Blue Jays players either cut loose or traded to other organizations.
The Trade That Changed Everything
Most people will look to the Josh Donaldson trade as Brett Lawrie’s greatest impact upon the Blue Jays. In a swap of third baseman, the Blue Jays received a perennial MVP candidate in Josh Donaldson, but gave up their injury-riddled, much-maligned third baseman in Brett Lawrie.
After that trade, the Blue Jays never looked back, but Brett Lawrie still put forth a solid effort in 2015 with the Oakland A’s. With a full season under his belt for the first time in his career, Lawrie established career highs in most categories.
Meanwhile, Josh Donaldson was the league’s MVP in 2015 and helped end a 22-year playoff drought for the Blue Jays. Following the 2015 campaign, Brett Lawrie found himself traded to the Chicago White Sox. Injury troubles followed Lawrie to the south side of Chicago, as he missed another 73 days due to injury in 2016.
Looking back on his time with the Blue Jays, Brett Lawrie was the consummate risk-taker. Sometimes, those risks led to injuries; sometimes those risks led to outs. It’s one of those qualities which is celebrated in most instances, but in Lawrie’s case, his intensity may have been his downfall.
The funny thing is, I look at Josh Donaldson and he’s not all that dissimilar to Brett Lawrie. Donaldson has found himself taking risks – diving into the stands, laying out across a tarp to make a catch – but the difference between Donaldson and Lawrie is Donaldson’s success rate is much, much higher.
A Cautionary Tale of Unreached Potential
In the life cycle of the Blue Jays, the Brett Lawrie era feels like it was long ago, but in actuality, it’s only been a few years since he was dealt to Oakland. But the end of Lawrie’s time in Toronto marked an important transition of the Blue Jays franchise.
If anything, the ballad of Brett Lawrie is a cautionary tale; one that demonstrated how astronomically high expectations can escalate for a player in such a short span. Although Lawrie possesses a world of potential, it’s also a tale which that proved that staying healthy is simply half the battle.
Teams will often overlook history or character flaws if the potential outweighs the risk. But for the Brewers, Blue Jays, Athletics and now the White Sox, the risks associated with Brett Lawrie evidently weren’t worth it.
Brett Lawrie will surely land on his feet with another organization. In some weird twist of fate, perhaps Lawrie comes back to the Toronto Blue Jays. But if he miraculously dons a Blue Jays uniform again, it won’t be as the once third baseman of the future.
That title belongs to Josh Donaldson; the player everyone hoped Brett Lawrie would become.