Addressing their production behind the plate has seemingly leap frogged up the priority list for the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason. The team will still be focused on adding starting pitching, according to MLB.com’s Gregor Chisolm, but finding an upgrade at catcher has become more of a concern than looking for a new left fielder or second baseman.
It’s tough to gauge where the team’s preferred path may take them – be it making a trade or looking to the free agent market – but options are not going to be abundant.
Toronto’s need to address the position stems largely from the disappointing 2013 campaign that J.P. Arencibia put forth. The 27 year old supplied some power behind the plate, hitting 21 HR, but offered little else offensively. He hit .194/.227/.365 on the year in 497 PA, working just 18 walks while striking out a career-worst 148 times (in 138 games played). Defensively he also struggled, allowing a league-high 13 passed balls. Even earning just above the league minimum it’s tough to justify any suggestion that Arencibia’s place in the team’s future is on stable ground.
Heading to arbitration for the first time, he’s looking at a bump to between $2-3 Million for the 2014 season – more than Toronto may be willing to pay for a backup catcher.
Chisolm doesn’t delve deep into who the team may target. He notes that the top free agent options – Brian McCann, A.J. Pierzynski, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia – will likely attract a lot of interest and will be difficult signings. Chisolm’s lone trade option that he mentions is Wilson Ramos of the Washington Nationals, but he won’t come cheap as the Nationals have little reason to move him.
That was it from Chisolm on the matter. He’d go on to discuss a few other items in his latest mailbag post (including Anthony Gose’s future with the team and why they were so willing to move Emilio Bonifacio this past summer) but he didn’t mention any other potential options for the team’s catching search. It’s pure speculation at this point, but one has to wonder whether the San Diego Padres or Oakland Athletics could matchup as possible trade partners this offseason.
Oakland’s inclusion is mostly a numbers game. The team has three catchers on their roster at the moment in an age where teams barely use two with regularity. With John Jaso, Derek Norris, and Stephen Vogt in the fold there’s the potential that the A’s could be open to moving one of them in the right deal.
San Diego, however, might be the more interesting choice to consider. There’ve been rumblings for months that the Padres could look to make a move (or multiple) this winter. A player such as Nick Hundley could be one of those involved. San Diego’s interest in re-signing Hundley to a long term deal has been tough to predict. He hit .233/.290/.389 in 408 PA this past year, adding a career best 13 HR in 114 games. He was never projected to be a big power threat, but most thought that we’d see more consistent production from Hundley at the plate as his career progressed. He’ll be a free agent following this next season, but the team would appear to have some options internally.
Yasmani Grandal is still in consideration, despite having a generally terrible 2013 season. He’d first serve a 50 game suspension for his ties to PED use, but then he’d struggle at the plate upon returning to the Padres roster. Grandal hit a mere .216/.352/.341 in 108 PA on the year. One of San Diego’s top prospects also happens to be a catcher, Austin Hedges, who’s not far from being MLB-ready. Hedges split this past season between High-A and Double-A, batting .260/.333/.390 in 341 PA on the year. Ranked by Baseball America as the 58th best prospect in baseball heading into the 2013 season, Hedges could be ready with another year of seasoning in the minor leagues.
San Diego could consider moving Hundley in the right deal, letting Grandal take over until Hedges is ready. Again, it’s just speculation, but if Toronto is serious about finding an upgrade behind the plate then they could ultimately have some options to pursue that would allow them to avoid paying one of the big free agent options at he position.