Though it’s likely that the Toronto Blue Jays will be looking fairly aggressively for an upgrade at catcher after J.P. Arencibia‘s disastrous 2013 season, saying goodbye might not be as simple as it seems.
For one, the team’s potential replacement options in the free agent market aren’t great, as they range from the likely unaffordable (Brian McCann) to questionable fits (Carlos Ruiz). Alex Anthopoulos would rather look to make changes to the roster on the trade market, though it takes two to dance there, and anyone with a catcher to spare would have fairly significant leverage knowing that the bluebirds have a fairly dire need at backstop.
It’s really not an ideal situation either way, which is to say that with each passing day, it’s more likely that Arencibia is going to come back in 2014, lest the team dares to deal with having Josh Thole behind the plate in 2014.
If the Blue Jays are going to end up having relatively little choice in the matter, could they at least find a way to maximize JPA’s production?
That’s going to be easier said than done, but perhaps a platoon situation could be in play here. One of things that the addition of Thole was supposed to bring was some sort of urgency to Arencibia’s role — someone to give him a little extra motivation to turn it around for the sake of saving his job. As Blue Jays fans know, that didn’t quite end up working according to plan, but could a newcomer succeed?
Toronto would need to acquire someone who isn’t quite on the tier of well-established starting catchers, but perhaps just ahead of the tier of guys who are set as backups because they can’t start. Dioner Navarro comes to mind as a candidate who could probably handle starting duties if needed, but would be equally comfortable in a platoon role.
While he is coming off his best offensive season ever (.856 OPS, 136 wRC+) that he was in a part-time role with the Chicago Cubs in 2013 likely means that he wouldn’t cost as much as the usual suspects either.
Ideally, the Blue Jays could try to construct a viable catcher using two guys who might not be the best candidates to start full-time individually. While we’re going with the Navarro scenario, the team could play him against lefties (.778/.650 career OPS vs. LHP/RHP, 1.123/.764 in 2013), while Arencibia would get the starts vs. RHP.
Depending on if Arencibia shows any signs of improvement, the team would probably feel pretty comfortable giving Navarro most of the starts, adjusting to the splits as they emerge; one interesting thing to note is that JPA was considerably more effective at the Rogers Center than away from it, posting a somewhat strange .732/.454 home/away OPS split, so perhaps something like that could be used in this arrangement.
If given a part time role at home, or against righties (or both), could the Blue Jays find a way to maximize his power potential without giving him the lion’s share of playing time to hurt the team elsewhere?
Moreover, would the combined salary of two catchers, be able to give the team a productive backstop that will help them contend in 2014? It worked out okay for Adam Lind and the DH spot, and while the splits aren’t exactly as straightforward in this case, doing things a little unconventionally and making adjustments along the way might be the best option that Toronto has left.