March 17, 2012; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Travis d

The Blue Jays' Catching Conundrum: J.P. Arencibia & Travis d'Arnaud

There are some problems in baseball that are nice to have. Too much pitching, for example (keep ‘em for injuries, or trade ‘em for bats), shortstops coming out the wazoo (move them to different positions, good athleticism plays anywhere!) or your team hits too many home runs — okay, so the Blue Jays proved  a couple of years ago that maybe that isn’t as good as you think if your team doesn’t get on base. Still, nice to see ‘em smack a tater, am I right?

Catching is an organizational strength for the Blue Jays right now. J.P. Arencibia is about to start his second full season as the starter at the major league level after a solid (though not spectacular) rookie season, Travis d’Arnaud is moving up to Triple-A with a good pedigree on both sides of the ball, and there’s A.J. Jimenez and Carlos Perez, among others, coming up behind them. Plus, Jeff Mathis is gainfully employed by the Blue Jays to back up Arencibia, for reasons that we have yet to determine.

In any case, it’s Arencibia and d’Arnaud that occupy the forefront of any backstop discussion for the Blue Jays. Arencibia is entrenched as the everyday catcher, and it’s assumed that d’Arnaud will promptly mash his way through Las Vegas and be knocking on the door at the Rogers Centre before too long, maybe even during this season. There’s already been some debate on the subject amongst Blue Jays fans: What should the Blue Jays do with these two talented young catchers?

As the spring is the time for idle speculation, let us present the options and, briefly, the case for each of them. I’ll start by putting a positive spin on it, and then look at it more realistically. I may or may not believe any of these things, but they’re all worth considering.

March 6, 2012; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays catcher

1) Keep Arencibia

The Spin: Arencibia had a solid rookie season offensively with the Blue Jays. 23 HRs and 78 RBIs are nice stats from a catcher without a lot of experience at the major league level. A hand injury in June hampered his offensive output, and steadily decreasing offensive stats was an aftereffect of that injury. possibly showing some fatigue down the stretch as a young player getting used to the major-league grind. Also, Arencibia has a history of improving the second year at a level, which he did during his minor league career. His defense and handling of the pitching staff can only improve as well.

The Slam: The counting stats obscure a ghastly .282 on-base percentage. And though Arencibia admitted he should probably have taken some time off with the injuries, getting dinged up is a fact of life as a catcher. The major leagues are much more difficult than the minors, and  just because he improved drastically there doesn’t mean he will improve at a higher level.

March 2, 2012; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Travis d

2) Keep d’Arnaud

The Spin: d’Arnaud is clearly the more talented of the two.  He had a monstrous split of .311/.371/.542 last year in Double-A New Hampshire last year. He was also named MVP of the Eastern League with the Fisher Cats, and voted the best defensive catcher as well (an oddity, given that Nichols’ Law of Catcher Defense is alive and well). Given his history, he’s no more than a year away from being ready for a full-time job.

The Slam: He’s a prospect, and hasn’t proven anything at the major league level. The Blue Jays just broke in a rookie catcher last year, do they want to have to have the pitching staff break in another one so quickly? If the Blue Jays are ready to contend in 2013, will they want to make allowances for d’Arnaud’s adjustment to the bigs?

3) Keep both

The Spin: If d’Arnaud proves to be an asset at the major league level, why can’t we have both? They have the potential to be good offensive catchers. We could rotate them between catcher and first base/DH to keep them fresh. That way, neither get too tired, and we’re insulated from injury if one of them does go down.

The Slam: This is the kind of thing that works way better in theory than practice; in recent years, only Texas has really done this well (with Mike Napoli last year). That’s even more of a load for Toronto’s young catchers to either learn the first base position, or risk their catching skills not being sharp by playing another position or DHing so often. While teams start the year with a platoon, often, the hot hand ends up being played more, and in this case that would decrease the value of one of the two. Additionally, the offensive standards for first base and DH are much higher than catcher- if you think Adam Lind struggled, think of how Arencibia’s bat would play at that position. Yikes.

Thankfully, this is something the Blue Jays don’t need to decide today. We might see d’Arnaud if Arencibia gets injured (because otherwise, we’ll see Mathis, and no one with a functioning brain cell wants to see too much of THAT), so it’ll be what these two accomplish this year that determine the brain trust’s decision going forward. Given Anthopoulos’ love of trades, it’s more than likely he’ll turn one of them into another asset if he believes they’re both major-league capable, given the belief that the Blue Jays may contend in 2013.

I’ll throw it out there for comments, though. What do you all think? Is Arencibia the man going forward? Or will d’Arnaud unseat him?

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Tags: Blue Jays J.P. Arencibia Jeff Mathis Travis D'Arnaud

  • jerkstore

    JPA could be a great platoon mate for Lind. Granted it is only 116 PAs, but against LH pitching:
    .838 OPS .355 wOBA 123wRC+ .279BABIP
    That will play at first base. Considering that is all as a rookie, he likely has room for improvement. Especially if he will be healthier by being not catching everyday. He can also grab PAs by giving D’Arnaud a day off.

  • JacobDanovitch

    Personally, I think Arencibia and Thames should battle it out for the DH spot when D’arnaud and Marisnick get here. Travis would catch, Jake would play LF, and the winner of the JP/Thames battle would DH. I think Eric could have a nice platoon/bench role.

  • sporkless

    The answer to this question is highly dependent on any ninja deal from AA where he gets something he wants in return for one of the two catchers.  I don’t think he’d trade one just for the sake of getting rid of one.  So if no favourable deals line up, why not have them both on the 25-man, with TdA getting the majority of time behind the plate, and JPA picking up some DH time too (particularly against lefties, as noted by other commenter). Yes, JPA would have to show more offense to be a viable regular option at DH (or even 1B), but it’s not unreasonable to expect him to be able to take an offensive step forward, particularly if he is less focused on catching.
    And yes, you could try to teach JPA to play 1B, but I don’t know he’s the right kind of athlete to play any infield position. I’m also convinced that Jose Bautista will be the first baseman within a couple of years, if not sooner, so likely not a big future there.

  • BuffaloSojourn

    The important thing to remembr is that no decision need be made for at least another 3 months.  I’m fairly confident that Arencibia has the abilities to add 40-50 points to his average and OBP.  If he can knock out 35 homeruns, that’s not horrible for a 1b/dh.
    This time last year, all the talk around JPA was his lack of bat(160ish BA).  His explanation was that he’s always been able to hit; he spent he entire spring working on his defence, with almost no time in the cage.  Combined with the hand injury, it’s quite remarkable he pounded out 23 homeruns (in 440 at bats-about 30 homers if 600 at bats).
    The point being, almost everyone has assumed that JPA’s 2011 stats reflect his ongoing skill level.  Perhaps it will be, but one year is not enough of a track record.  Personally, I’m somewhat confident that this will turn out to be his floor. The question is how high is his ceiling?  Think it would be fair to allow JPA at least another 300 ab’s to see if he has another 2nd year progression in him. With the fact that D’Arnaud needing at least 1/2 a year seasoning, why not wait until July to even bother discussing what the future of the 2 players hold.
    Another problem is the rising popularity of JPA among the fans, and seemingly his teamates. It very much seems that Arencibia has that intangibles you want in a catcher; every team wants one of their team leaders to be the catcher- by the very nature of the position (most involved player in game, defensive quarterback, leader of the pitching staff, etc.). Ths would make it even harder to trade him away.
    It is only now becoming apparent that Anthopoulis places a higher value on ‘character’ than we realized (perhaps a direct result of his years as an assistant in what is now increasingly being seen as a fractured clubhouse-but that’s another story). This makes it even more problematic divesting themselves of Arencibia. 

  • bear19

    I’m surprised that you are so dismissive of what Mathis brings to the table.

  • dave_church

     @bear19 The biggest concern I- and I think the majority of “stathead” types (of which I am an amateur at best) have with Mathis is that he’s an awful hitter, and has proven that in his time with Anaheim. The general consensus on him is that he’s good defensively, and calls a great game, but those are more difficult to measure and prove. With that in mind, I’m more comfortable evaluating players where I can see tangible evidence that they’re good.  I would love nothing more than for Mathis to prove me wrong and be great in both facets, I just don’t picture it happening.

  • dave_church

     @BuffaloSojourn Completely agree with this. I think AA takes into account popularity/intangibles, though I don’t think he’d shy away from a deal on that account. He dealt Shawn Marcum, which wasn’t a super popular deal at the time, if I recall correctly. I don’t think it’s something the Jays will have to worry about right now, as I mentioned, but it  was something I was thinking about as I followed the spring.

  • bear19

     More to baseball and team value than just hitting.
    Mathis is an A catcher behind the plate, rather importand for a younf staff.
    Scotia said he was worth a run a for me.

  • jakely

    It’s a great problem to have. I personally really like the look of Arencibia. I thought what he did with the bat last year was quite good. He did foresake working on his hitting for the most part last year. His backstop chores were ordered as his focus. He had a big curve behind the plate and I thought it was obvious he really worked at it. Can’t ask for more than that. Still a curve there. The thumb killed a month or more for him. That’s a natural power swing he has. He’s confident with a bit of swagger.The other numbers will come up. I really like his ceiling. His floor will have him in the upper half of backstops. He’s got nowhere to go but up. Whatever they do, there’s not many more attractive trade chips than catchers and I like the way AA deals. We should make out like bandits. Seriously, what area of the team in the coming years doesn’t look like we’ll make out like bandits? Cant beat deep.