The Toronto Blue Jays face a few interesting decisions this offseason, including a half dozen team options on players this winter. For some players, like Brandon Morrow and Sergio Santos, those options are cut and dry. For players like Adam Lind, Dustin McGowan, and J.A. Happ, there will be quite a bit more difficulty involved.
Then there is the case of Josh Thole, which could be the single most interesting option of all.
The soon-to-be 28-year-old backstop just completed his second season with the Toronto Blue Jays and now the team is faced with exercising a third year option worth $1.75 million. If the team chooses to part ways with Thole, there is a $250,000 buyout on the contract. However, the decision isn’t likely to come down to money, as Thole’s option year is right around what the Blue Jays can expect to pay for a back-up catcher.
Additionally, it could be possible that Thole’s overall performance isn’t even going to carry the weight it should. For the second year in a row, Thole was ranked at or below replacement level, putting together a .248/.320/.278 campaign in 2014, which was a significant improvement over the .175/.256/.242 he contributed to the Jays in 2013.
While Thole basically ranks right at average both offensively and defensively as a back-up catcher, the single biggest factor in Thole’s future with the Blue Jays will rely on his relationship with R.A. Dickey, and if the Blue Jays will value Dickey’s opinion enough to allow his decision to justify either bringing Thole back or letting him walk.
Perhaps that is why the Blue Jays brought in back-up catcher George Kottaras on a minor league deal late last winter. Kottaras, as widely discussed throughout his time with the big club in September, has a history of catching knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield while spending time early in his career with Boston. We also saw Kottaras catching a few of Dickey’s bullpen sessions down the stretch, perhaps as a way to gauge Kottaras’ comfort with Dickey.
That said, the Blue Jays have essentially granted Kottaras, a Scarsborough, Ontario native, free agency by outrighting him to Triple-A Buffalo in early October, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t coming back. Given his low price tag, and his familiarity with the knuckleball, it wouldn’t be a big leap to see the Blue Jays take the short road here and decline Thole’s option only to bring back Kottaras.
The question only comes down to whether or not the Blue Jays will come to that decision, or another one involving letting Thole go or even bringing him back for a third season. There won’t be a huge cost savings, so it’ll come down to what makes the team better overall.
Oh, and what R.A. Dickey thinks will work for him.