Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Catcher Carousel: Arencibia's Out, Navarro's In


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Often in life, there are the things you want to do and the things you should do. Rarely does it seem like those two things ever converge into one path, but this was actually the case with the Toronto Blue Jays and J.P. Arencibia.

After his disastrous 2013 and a not particularly great body of work the past three seasons, the Blue Jays should have non-tendered J.P. Arencibia ... and they in fact did.

Now Toronto's catcher carousel spins once again as J.P. Arencibia is out and Dioner Navarro is in. Navarro's 2-year/$8 million dollar contract all but sealed the fate of Arencibia, who is officially a free agent. 

The decision came as a bit of a shock to me because while most would have loved to see almost anybody else behind the plate, many believed the Blue Jays didn't have the wherewithal to make the switch.

I think that's the most surprising part about all of this; at no point did the organization ever really hint that they were going to let go of J.P. Arencibia. They had every opportunity to throw him under the bus ... and they didn't.

If anything, the front office all but assured Arencibia of his job security, despite his lackluster performance offensively and defensively. They continued to run J.P. out there every day, although he clearly struggled in nearly all facets of the game.

The way Alex Anthopoulos and John Gibbons handled the entire J.P. Arencibia situation with kid gloves this past season indicated to me that J.P. would in fact remain the Blue Jays starting catcher. Apparently, that was not the case.

On the same token, Arencibia essentially forced the Blue Jays into upgrading at catcher. They either could have brought back J.P. and hoped he would improve, or they could improve immediately by bringing in practically any other catcher.

The Blue Jays made the wise choice and brought in another backstop.

One wonders whether non-tendering J.P. Arencibia had more to do about the dollars than the lack of production. Considering J.P. was slated to hit close to $2.5 million in arbitration, methinks it was more the former than the latter.

Hypothetically speaking, say Arencibia's 2014 salary would only be $750,000 or even $1 million, would the Blue Jays still have non-tendered him? Judging by the way the organization spoke of J.P., I don't think so.

Part of me feels kind of bad for J.P. Arencibia; this is a guy who spent seven years in the Blue Jays organization and experienced his fair share of ups and downs. At one point, he was even ranked as the number two prospect in the Blue Jays organization.

But at the same time, the Blue Jays gave Arencibia every opportunity to succeed. He held a starting catcher job for three consecutive seasons, and yet he just wasn't able to display the characteristics of even an average starting catcher.

Ultimately, the Blue Jays couldn't afford to carry an offensive liability on the roster like J.P. Arencibia at that high of a price point. And even if he were to backup Navarro, it wouldn't make sense to pay $2.8 million for a player that doesn't offer much other than a boatload of strikeouts peppered in with the odd home run.

When it comes to Dioner Navarro, obviously the primary concern is durability. He hasn't caught more than 100 games in a season since his days with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009, but Navarro doesn't necessarily even have to receive the brunt of the work behind the plate. The Blue Jays could split the catching duties 70/30 or with Josh Thole if they deem necessary.

For around $200,000 more this season, the Blue Jays get a starting catcher in Dioner Navarro who can not only hit, but who also has a decent on base percentage; a characteristic that was sorely lacking from J.P. Arencibia's game.

Dioner Navarro may not provide a tremendous amount of offense at the catcher's position, but if he can hit better than .194 and get on base better than a .227 clip, he'll already be an upgrade over his predecessor.

And that's what this all really boils down to; carrying J.P. Arencibia on the Blue Jays roster was simply cost prohibitive. There was a strong possibility his 2014 couldn't be nearly as bad as his 2013, but it just doesn't make sense to have so many question marks surrounding one player projected to make close to $3 million dollars this coming season.

So just like that, the J.P. Arencibia era is over. I think some people want to seek gratification in the Blue Jays ridding themselves of J.P., but Arencibia's departure is just the latest in the long line of failed first round draft picks by the Blue Jays.

J.P. Arencibia being non-tendered marks the 7th of 10 first round picks from 2004-2008 that have either been non-tendered, traded, or outrighted off the roster by the Toronto Blue Jays.

That list includes David Purcey, Zach Jackson, Ricky Romero, Travis Snider, David Cooper, Trystan Magnuson and now J.P. Arencibia.

Given those picks were made during the much-maligned J.P. Ricciardi era, but Alex Anthopoulos was Ricciardi's right-hand man as Assistant GM from 2006-2009. And those are seven picks that could have potentially been the building blocks of the Blue Jays roster.

From a player development standpoint, non-tendering J.P. Arencibia was a failure on the part of the Toronto Blue Jays. And they ran Arencibia so far into the ground that they couldn't even swing a trade to fetch something in return. That says a lot.

Arencibia may have shown he was very strong-willed, but the onus should have ultimately fallen on the organization to recognize those shortcomings early and mold J.P. into the player they wanted.

That's what I'll take away from J.P. Arencibia's time in Toronto; he was a highly-touted prospect that was supposed to be the catcher of the future. He certainly came in with a bang, and now he'll leave town with nothing more than a whimper.

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