Yes, J.P. Arencibia is a nice guy who hits homers.
Whether he should continue being the Toronto Blue Jays‘ starting catcher, however, is another story. While the fourth-year catcher has been named the team’s nominee for this year’s Roberto Clemente award and should be given kudos for his character and his charitable work off the field, his value to the team hinges on his work on the field, and let’s just say that his year hasn’t gone as swimmingly in that regard.
Though he’d come out like gangbusters with a power stroke that would have masked all of his shortcomings if he could have kept it up, the fact is that even with 20 homers on the season, the backstop is still a -0.5 fWAR player for the disappointing 2013 Blue Jays, a major step back from his 1.1 fWAR season in 2012.
Even just status quo would have been better, really.
He did manage to stay relatively healthy all year, but his 6.7 fielding runs below average makes him one of the worst among his peers in that respect (third-last ahead of Ryan Doumit and Carlos Santana), and his already poor plate discipline is worst than it’s ever been with a 0.13 BB/K ratio driven be a 3.9 percent walk rate.
Not even the homers could save him from a dismal league-worst (among catchers) .610 OPS thanks to a .200/.236/.374 line. Entering his prime at age 27, that’s certainly not what the team was looking for.
But what choice do they have?
Yes, the Blue Jays could definitely use an upgrade in the catching department, but it’s not as if there are potential reinforcements lining up to take hold of the job. Do they want to go with Josh Thole as the everyday guy after what will be two straight below replacement level seasons and a dismal .457 OPS this year in 101 PA (.643 over 1141 PA in career)?
Prospect A.J. Jimenez saw his season end with an injury, and while he did post a decent .276/.327/.394 line over 223 PA in double-A this season, his 3.2 percent walk rate and .525 OPS after moving up to triple-A Buffalo is by no means reassuring, even in a throwaway 31-PA sample.
What about outside help? Unless the Blue Jay are ready to find some more room in their payroll to make a splash for Brian McCann (ie. not happening), the pickings are slim. John Buck? Been there, done that. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, if the Red Sox decide to look elsewhere, might be an option, but as a sub-par defender with a career .308 OBP and a 29.5 percent strikeout rate … doesn’t that remind you of someone?
Carlos Ruiz? Potentially too old and too risky, plus the Philadelphia Phillies will certainly want to keep him if they can’t get McCann. There’s also 37-year-old A.J. Pierzynski, but these are really expensive, short-term options, no? To find value, the team would have to look through a litter of potential platoon/veteran backup catchers and hope they can be more than that: Ramon Hernandez, Dioner Navarro, Kelly Shoppach, etc.
An interesting option might be Texas Rangers‘ Geovany Soto, if only given his prime age at 30-years old, ROY pedigree and past success (5.4 fWAR from 2010-2011); but, he could be just as bad as JPA in a given year (.613 OPS in 2012), so do the Jays roll the dice?
Given the weak class of catchers in FA, it seems that (barring a trade) there’s a decent chance the team will stay in-house for a solution and see if Jimenez can give JPA a run at Spring Training next season, with Thole continuing to serve as a backup … which is to say that Arencibia could very well once again be the starting catcher on Opening Day.
While the team will probably want to change that (to at least a timeshare situation), doing so could be easier said than done.