Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Blue Jays Hotstove: Who To Sign At Catcher


Calling J.P. Arencibia a terrible baseball player is hyperbole. After all, he is one of just 80 people in the entire world that played catcher for a Major League baseball club in 2013. To say that J.P. Arencibia is a terrible Major League Baseball player, well then you’re spot on. Of the 80 players that took at least 10 PA (yes 10), Arencibia provided ranked 78th in fWAR. Thus, the Blue Jays need to upgrade the catching position is quite obviously a priority, and as we can see from Arencibia’s awfulness, just about anyone would be an upgrade.

Since speculating on trades is kind of hard to do with many potential trade targets not clearly available (see: Marlins trade last season), we’ll instead look at the potential free-agent catcher that the Jays could sign from the free agent market to replace the ineptitude of J.P. Arencibia.

Dioneer Navarro

In 89 games played for the Chicago Cubs in 2013, Navarro managed to post a line of .300/.365/.492. His line was slightly inflated by a .307 BABIP, but a decent walk rate combined with a 13.5 % strike out rate all but ensures that Navarro would be an offensive upgrade over Arencibia in 2014. In addition to his offense Navarro has been a positive defensive player as per Fangraphs in each of his MLB seasons.

So why haven’t the Blue Jays pounced yet? Navarro hasn’t caught more than 90 games since 2009. With so much at stake this season, and Josh Thole entrenched as the back up, do the Blue Jays really want to pin their hopes on a career back up? I personally believe the risk is worth it, but it all comes down to what kind of contract Navarro is able to demand. There is certainly more than one team that has noticed that Navarro may have the ability to start, and those teams may not have nearly as much riding on upgrading their catching position.

A.J. Pierzynski

I’m loathe to even think about this. Every fan of professional sports has an individual on an opposing teams that they have an irrational distaste for. A.J. Pierzynski is that player for me. I just can’t stand to look at the guy. But you know what I can’t stand looking at even more? J.P. Arencibia behind the plate for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Pierzynski had yet another solid campaign in 2013, posting his 11th season of between 1-2 WAR (he has two of 3+). Pierzynski has never played a full season of MLB baseball without posting at least 1 fWAR, which considering Arencibia’s performance in recent years would be close to a full 2 win upgrade for the Blue Jays.

Pierzynski consistently gives you exactly what you expect, a low walk rate, a low K rate, a decent batting average with a little bit of pop. He provides decent defense, and has a face that you can hate.  The one caveat is that Pierzynski will be 37 years old when Spring Training opens, and given the way catchers age in baseball, he’s a ticking time bomb of regression that could turn disastrous with a long-term contract.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is coming off of a career year. Salty managed to post a career high wRC+ 117, thanks in part to a ridiculously inflated .372 BABIP, a full 50 points above his career average. Saltalamacchia is considered to be a positive pitch framer, but rates poorly when it comes defensive metrics, and has one giant, ugly problem, that is only exacerbated by the Jays current backup situation.

Split wRC+ vs LHP wRC+ vs RHP
2013 71 135
Career 56 110

(h/t FanGraphs)

Yuck.

Having a starter that can essentially exclusively hit RHP isn’t necessarily a problem if you have a second catcher that can step in and hit left handers at a league average rate (not a huge thing to ask of a right-handed hitter), but the Blue Jays have to take special considerations when it comes to catching R.A. Dickey, and have already hitched their backup wagon to Josh Thole. Having two catcher with extreme-ish platoon splits on the same side of the plate is not the most ideal of situations. Salty would be an upgrade, but should not be the Jays first choice.

Who Do They Sign?

Given Salty’s aforementioned troubles against LHP, the Jays should look elsewhere for a starter. Pierzynski meanwhile has been solid for what seems like forever, and could be brought in as a stop-gap if he is willing to come in on a short-term deal, he would be an excellent upgrade for the Jays. My choice however is Navarro. Despite his solid numbers in limited action the last few years, teams do not seem to value him at the level that his stats project him to be at over a full season. This would leave me to believe that Navarro could come at a discounted rate, that would allow the Jays to upgrade one of their other holes in the line up.

Tags: Toronto Blue Jays