Wednesday, August 15, 2012
The Blue Jays Catching Conundrum
By Ian Hunter
Since catching is such a physically taxing position, it's actually a pretty smart strategy. AA would prefer to have a bevy of backstops than a lack thereof. And frankly, I can't blame him since two of the most prominent catchers in the system are suffering from injuries.
On any other day, the extension of Jeff Mathis and signing of Yorvit Torrealba might correspond with a team that's raising the white flag on offensive contributions from behind the plate. But with all the injuries, we simply know that's not the case.
The Jeff Mathis contract extension mirrors the Jose Molina contract from a few years ago in many ways. They are both great catchers in small doses, but simply can't handle the load as a full-time catcher.
Mathis' biggest contributions towards the Blue Jays roster will not be with his bat, but with his glove and his handling of the starting staff. I'm not saying Jeff Mathis earned a contract extension simply with intangibles, but he's worth more to the team than what his numbers indicate.
So if Jeff Mathis is going to stick around the next few seasons as the Blue Jays backup catcher, who inevitably will grab the reins as the starting catcher? Is it J.P. Arencibia, is it Travis d'Arnaud, or is it someone else?
Right off the bat, I'm going to rule out Yan Gomes from the running even as the backup catcher. His number of at bats this season is admittedly a small sample size, but he's not somebody I would want to see get at bats over Arencibia and d'Arnaud.
Gomes has the position flexibility going for him, which makes him a perfect candidate for a bench position ... but that's about it. A late game defensive replacement or a pinch hitter (but only in a pinch).
J.P. Arencibia is currently on the shelf, but it looks like the starting catching job is his to lose next season. The only scenario I can foresee him not making the Opening Day roster as the starting catcher is if he traded in the offseason.
That's certainly a possibility, as catching is a position of strength for the Blue Jays. That can be a double-edged sword, as you can never have too many catchers, but that also may drive down the price of Arencibia on the trade market as other teams know that d'Arnaud is waiting in the wings.
If the Blue Jays can either package J.P. Arencibia in a deal or fetch something decent in return, then I'm all for moving him in the offseason. I'm sure there's some team out there that's looking for a young power-hitting backstop, and we know the Blue Jays have plenty of them.
And now that Jeff Mathis is signed through 2014, that now makes him the mentor figure to whichever player gets the bulk of the reps behind the plate the next few years. If anything, I think that indicates Travis d'Arnaud will get a shot sooner rather than later.
Alex Anthopoulos also hinted the Blue Jays could actually carry three catchers next season, with Travis d'Arnaud potentially getting some at bats at DH, with some sort of revolving door involving Arencibia, Mathis and d'Arnaud behind the plate.
That may not be the wisest strategy to help develop d'Arnaud's defensive skills, but it plays well into his strengths as a great hitter. And of course there's always the possibility that Arencibia and d'Arnaud could get some playing time at first base as well.
I suppose there's no hurry in rushing Travis d'Arnaud to the Major Leagues, as he could very well just spend 2013 in Triple A and continue to get the bulk of playing time behind the plate and receive everyday at bats.
If Alex Anthopoulos thinks 2013 might be the "the year" for contention, then I can see the sense of urgency to get d'Arnaud up to the majors as quick as possible. But if it's going to be another year of development, then why start the service clock early on d'Arnaud when they don't have to?
Again, having too many catchers is a good problem for the Blue Jays to have. Where most teams might have trouble fielding even one offensive-minded backstop, the Blue Jays have two. And I'm sure all those teams are well aware of Toronto's surplus of catchers.
Throw in Jeff Mathis for good measure, and the Blue Jays have all the tools covered with their three-headed catching monster. But somewhere down the road, that three-headed monster will have to be cut down to two.