How Does Erik Kratz Fit With 2014 Toronto Blue Jays?
You’d better watch your rear-view mirror now, Josh Thole.
While there’s probably some irony to be found in the way that the backup catcher who was to give the now-departed J.P. Arencibia a push is now being pushed himself, the general reaction to the trade that ended the overdone Travis Snider/Brad Lincoln conversation seems to be more apathetic than anything else.
Then again, considering how both Lincoln and Snider turned out, maybe it’s the only appropriate reaction.
In any case, the catcher-needy Toronto Blue Jays now have themselves a veritable glut of backstops with the addition of Erik Kratz, though you could probably make an argument that the position remains as much of a question mark than ever. Despite this, the newcomer might have a difficult time finding himself as being part of the equation in 2014 as it stands.
Dioner Navarro, the Blue Jays’ big acquisition thus far, is going to get every reasonable opportunity to be the everyday starter going forward, regardless of the fact that he hasn’t had a similar role in years. Meanwhile, as bad as Josh Thole was in his -0.5 fWAR season, the fact that he’s R.A. Dickey‘s personal catcher gives him a spot on the team.
Now, it’s not to say that Thole must be the only Toronto catcher who can be paired with the knuckleballer, but unless there’s a good reason for break them up, that’s the way it seems to be set.
Fortunately for Kratz, coming up with said reason might not be as difficult as it might seem. While the 33-year-old by no means a good hitter with a .220/.281 AVG/OBP over his 417-PA career, he does have something that Thole does not have: power. This is a player who has hit 18 homers in just 129 games, meaning that the 20-homer plateau wouldn’t be out of the question if he were to get everyday playing time.
As a certain former Bluebirds catcher can probably tell you by now, that won’t happen — barring something going wrong with Navarro anyway.
In this sense, Toronto made a fairly smart move in essentially acquiring Arencibia’s power without the salary or the excess baggage that comes with it. While the former no. 1 wouldn’t have been it fit for a backup/bench role, a career backup like Kratz should have no problem with riding the pine, or even hanging around in triple-A as depth.
Then again, considering that Thole put together an unplayable .175/.256/.242 slash through 135 PA, it’s possible that Kratz won’t be the one hanging around in the minors.
In short, with Thole potentially departing after 2014 (or prior), Kratz will be given his fair shot at being the backup even if the odds are somewhat against him. With Thole having provided negative value even in a limited role as being Dickey’s catcher, Kratz would have to show that his bat can provide the opposite to give the team some pause over their plan.
And if Navarro ends up facing durability concerns? In that worst-case scenario, it’s probably not going to be Thole getting everyday playing time, barring a significant bounce-back with his bat. So if it’s going to be Kratz getting the bulk of the time behind the plate, at least the Blue Jays can take the sad comfort in knowing that a JPA-like offensive performance is not beyond expectations.
Whether that’s a good thing or not, however …