Blue Jays: A Josh Thole reunion only logical for both sides


The Blue Jays non-tendered Josh Thole late Wednesday, but a reunion continues to be the most logical outcome regardless of which side you’re on

Josh Thole’s projected arbitration figure of $1.8 million was understandably deemed too rich for the Blue Jays in 2016. Wednesday’s non-tender decision releases him to the open market, but past the Blue Jays, which organization would even have Thole on their radar, let alone entertain signing him to a contract with any level of MLB opportunity?

The unique-to-Toronto value obviously lies in Thole’s ability to work with 41-year old knuckler R.A. Dickey. The two have worked in tandem for 867.1 innings, which amounts to over half of Dickey’s career innings pitched and a large majority since he’s made the transition to his signature pitch. Across that sample size, Dickey and Thole have recorded a 3.56 ERA.

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Toronto pulled a similar move with Justin Smoak last offseason, initially non-tendering him then retaining him at $1 million. The veteran minimum would be a much more comfortable level for Thole, or preferably a minor league deal, but would anyone be particularly irate with a $1 million salary? Especially given the potential boost he can offer to the value of Russell Martin by protecting him from the knuckleball?

It’s been a rough stretch of four seasons for Thole, who generated some legitimate buzz in New York as a 23 and 24 year old from 2010-2011. If you include a brief stint from his age-22 season, Thole opened the first three seasons of his MLB career with a .276 average and .707 OPS, walking nearly as much as he struck out and producing the odd extra base hit.

Since then, nada. From Thole’s final season with the Mets through his three in Toronto, his slash line has plummeted to .223 / .289 / .274 with decreased plate discipline. Thole’s also been unable to develop into anything other than a slap singles hitter, which at his level of success, doesn’t make for an ideal backup catcher.

His value remains, however, in the ability to protect Martin. It’s important that each bench or depth player have one marketable trait that lives above the league average. Justin Smoak has his power, Ryan Goins has always had his glove. Ezequiel Carrera had some pinch-run appeal last season and 2015’s backup Dioner Navarro had the ability to switch-hit.

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If Thole lands in a spot where there’s no knuckleball for him to catch, it’s likely he rides the pine for a AAA club with zero opportunity at Major League action. Toronto offers some hope of that, but it’s not just due to the knuckleball. The Blue Jays catching depth is hurting right now.

Behind Martin, the oft-injured ex-prospect A.J. Jimenez might be the favorite to beat out veteran minor league signing Humberto Quintero for a Major League job. That’s not going to work. Even before this non-tendering of Thole, the Blue Jays needed to add a minimum of one depth catcher.

It’s curious, however, that a lesser deal with Thole wasn’t quickly announced. The top-end budget might not be available for splash moves, but the J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and even Justin Smoak signings suggest that if and when Toronto identifies a lower-level player they want, there’s no hesitation in grabbing him. Thole should cost pennies, relatively speaking, and the risk in not retaining him far outweighs the burden of his small salary. If the Jays expect to roll Martin out with Dickey this year, that’s a problem.