Blue Jays: Humberto Quintero deal points to Josh Thole
The Toronto Blue Jays registered a small blip on the free agent radar Friday in signing veteran catcher Humberto Quintero to a minor league deal, including an invitation to spring training. The move itself shouldn’t raise any alarm, as Quintero is a 36-year old career backup whose game features no spectacular attribute, but his addition could tip the Blue Jays hand on their plans for Josh Thole this upcoming season.
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With Dioner Navarro hitting free agency, he may stretch well into the offseason as he awaits a starting opportunity to emerge due to trade activity or injuries elsewhere. He’s surely out of Toronto’s preferred price range unless his market remains dim, leaving backup catcher as an underrated are of need entering 2016. In adding Quintero as AAA depth following the departures of Sean Ochinko and George Kottaras, depth behind Thole will only buoy him.
In Quintero, the Blue Jays are getting a career .234 hitter with just 47 walks in a career 1,423 MLB plate appearances. That’s impressive, albeit for the wrong reasons. He spent 2015 at the AAA level with the Boston Red Sox organization, posting a .638 OPS over 81 games.
Just as this signing has more to do with Thole than Quintero, Thole’s MLB presence would have more to do with Martin than himself. Kyle Matte over at Capital Jays cracked open the knuckleball’s impact on Russell Martin at the plate, and protecting one of the club’s highest-paid players from that added battery should be a conscious goal for the Blue Jays.
Thole hasn’t recaptured any of the promise he showed offensively as a younger player, but as a slap hitter that can protect the starter and keep Dickey happy, there’s more value there than many of us would like to admit. The obvious worry, though, is where Toronto would turn if Martin needed to miss a period of time due to injury. Thole has value as a specialist, but next to zero as a full-time starter.
An added wrinkle to the story is that Quintero worked with Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright. This isn’t to say he’s mastered the art, but there’s some level of familiarity with the pitch. While the Blue Jays could always forego the projected $1.7 million salary Thole is expected to receive in arbitration and save north of one million dollars by letting him walk, that’s far too much risk for my liking.
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Instead, we could view Quintero as not only AAA depth that makes Josh Thole’s 2016 roster spot all the more likely, but also as a furthered commitment to protecting Martin. If Thole goes down to injury, or plays abysmally, there’s another glove in the system that has knuckleball experience. Finding that in a catcher, regardless of their talent level, is a rarity.
The offseason grind and transactional aspect of baseball can leave us sounding a little heartless, but essentially, Quintero is a warm body for the farm system. Whenever a warm body is added behind Thole, though, that’s another factor working in his favor.