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.

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.

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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