For those Toronto Blue Jays fans who were staunchly in the anti-J.P. Arencibia camp, today has been a day of rejoicing.
They’ll have Dioner Navarro to thank for that, as the team’s new $8 million man will essentially close the curtains on the incumbent starter’s tumultuous era north of the border, a stint that culminated in a disastrous 2013 season that he shared with just about the rest of the team. By the end of the night, the Blue Jays will only be carrying three catchers on the 40-man roster.
For the third man in that group, however, the future is no clearer despite the move.
That would be A.J. Jimenez, the 23-year old backstop prospect whose development also hit a snag of its own, as he struggled mightily upon being promoted to triple-A (.525 OPS over 31 PA) before being shut down with nerve irritation in his elbow. Despite this, however, he’d probably have ended up being the Blue Jays’ backup perhaps as early as 2014 if Josh Thole wasn’t around.
He is around, though, which is to say that until at least 2015, the youngster can look forward to his first full triple-A season at age 24. Should he succeed, there’s not going to be much reason to keep him in the minors. Whether Toronto will be able to make room for the defensive-minded backstop, however, is another story.
Assuming that his health is fine — this is a bigger hurdle than it would seem, given previous injury concerns over his elbow — Jimenez’s role could be dependent on how comfortable the Blue Jays are to have anyone else catch R.A. Dickey, who will likely be around for at least the duration of his contract ending after the 2015 season. That’s to say despite Thole being set to become a free agent after 2014, the team will still have a reason to re-up with him for another year.
Even if they don’t, it’s not as though time is on Jimenez’s side to eventually grow into an eventual full-time starting role. With Navarro in the mix on a back-loaded contract and making $5 million in 2015, the earliest that Jimenez would presumably be given a backup role would be in his age-25 season, making him a bit of a latecomer by prospect standards.
And if he has a setback in 2014 either with ineffectiveness or injury? It’s perhaps not too useful look that far ahead, but let’s just say that his career wouldn’t be in the best shape if his first cup of MLB action came during his age-26 season.
Was it a conscious effort on the part of the Blue Jays to leave a “catcher of the future” job open by signing a catcher who has totaled just 683 PA over the last four seasons? It’s possible, but even though he’s by no means blocked in the long run by either Navarro or Thole at this point, Jimenez still has his work cut out for him to take hold of the significant future role that could be his following Arencibia’s departure.