Should J.P. Arencibia remain Blue Jays starting catcher?


Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia throws to second base on a stolen base attempt during the second inning at U.S. Cellular Field. Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been fairly obvious for some time now that the Toronto Blue Jays have three major areas that they need to improve – the rotation, catcher and second base. It seems that in theory it would be much easier to shore up what were black holes of production in the latter two areas but with some seemingly unmovable dead lumber sucking up the payroll (ahem… Ricky Romero) and a hole to fill at the top of the rotation the Blue Jays may not have the luxury of upgrading at two let alone all three positions. Trading or acquiring at catcher or second base, no matter how cheaply it can be done, still comes at a cost that may put further stress on what’s becoming a close to a tapped out farm system and payroll.

Catching is probably a bigger priority than second base and the Jays can’t afford to give J.P. Arencibia 497 plate appearances again next season. Based on recent comments from GM Alex Anthopoulos for whatever reason he doesn’t see Arencibia as a back-up option, which I think is a better fit for his skill set. I’m not sure if it’s a personality thing or not but I don’t understand why the Jays would limit themselves to starter-or-bust mentality with Arencibia. They could try to trade him (for what, I’m not sure) or even non-tender him but even as bad as Arencibia has been it’s basically unthinkable to let an under 30 catcher who played 138 games for your team last season walk for nothing.

Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia goes after a foul pop up against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre. Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Many fans and critics may not like the idea but despite my earlier comments I have a feeling that the Jays will be forced to trot out Arencibia in some kind of role during 2014. There’s hope he can return to the one win player he was before last year’s debauchery, which Steamer actually projects from the soon-to-be 28-year-old catcher. A 1.0 fWAR would still would only put him 40th among 2014 catchers based on current projections but unless the Jays want to significantly overpay they can probably only afford to buy one more win this off-season behind the plate given assumed salary constraints. An added win is an added win but if ownership draws a hard-line in the sand adding even modest value at catcher could mean losing out on a three or four-win pitcher(s). And in my opinion the Jays could add potentially five to six wins with the right starting pitching acquisitions this off-season, which would be very expensive but ideally only one player would be a commitment of more than two years. Even one three-win pitcher would be a huge improvement over the replacement level players the Blue Jays were putting on the mound on a regular occurrence in 2013 to go along with improved back-end depth that I will get to shortly.

I may be reaching with my assumption that Arencibia will avoid being a negative WAR player and I completely understand the argument that he’s basically a replacement level player (or worse) that needs to go. But at $2.8 million, which is what MLBTR predicts his arbitrated salary to be, if he does provide you with a win behind the plate it’s not horrible value. The Jays could still choose to upgrade and still keep Arencibia on the roster if both parties were okay with the idea of having him as a back-up. Unless he’s historically awful two season in a row, which I admit could very well happen, he may not be the complete dead-weight that he was in 2013. Even if the Jays don’t make a move if they just give Arencibia less at bats and (reaching even further) if Josh Thole can pose at least some semblance of a major league baseball player the Jays could maybe even get two or three wins from the position next season (Steamer is predicting 1.8 from the pair). It’s not much but there’s probably only another extra win available on the free agent market and a trade for a catcher would most likely involve losing at least one prospect that could be needed later on to better the chance of acquiring a starting pitcher.

Arencibia has holes in his game without a doubt. But I personally feel that many of his failings are mental aspects of the game that can be corrected with time. He didn’t show it very often in 2013 but the talent is still there. If he learns how to keep the baseball in front of him, gets off his knees every time he throws to second, learns how to identify to better identify pitches to improve his approach and also learns how to call a better game he could still become a serviceable major leaguer. Yeah I know, it’s asking a lot but at the same time it’s not completely unfathomable he at least starts to make progress in some of those areas.

When it comes to the rotation the talent level is just not there. R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle had their rough patches but overall pitched tremendously in 2013 but after that there are serious question marks. The back-end looks good to go with Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Todd Redmond, Chad Jenkins, Esmil Rogers and J.A. Happ all capable of holding down the fifth spot (not to mention Marcus Stroman or Sean Nolin) but with question marks around Brandon Morrow the Jays still need major help with their top four.

None of this year’s free agent pitchers are perfect but the opportunity to improve the rotation to me trumps any value that could be added behind the plate. Even Scott Feldman who I didn’t give a whole lot to credit to the other day put up a 1.6 rWAR and made $6 million in 2013. Outside of Buehrle and Dickey, not one player in the Blue Jays rotation contributed more than a 0.6 rWAR last season and that was Redmond (followed by Jenkins at 0.5).

My point is that however tempting offers may be to improve other areas of the team Alex Anthopoulos needs to stay focused on adding as much starting pitching as possible to the Toronto Blue Jays. Obviously if the Jays could find room to add at both areas I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea, just as long as it doesn’t take away from acquiring arms up front. I’m hoping that Alex Anthopoulos’ patience will pay off with a big fish from the available pitching pool or at least a player or two that can contribute in positive ways for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014. If that means the Jays are forced to go with J.P. Arencibia as their starting catcher (with a more reasonable number of plate appearances) I guess that’s just the cost of doing business.