Blue Jays playing a high-risk game with catching depth


Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro is rightfully uncomfortable with the catching depth behind Russell Martin should he lose time to an injury in 2016

The Blue Jays 2016 offseason has been, for the most part, about depth.

Arms like Jesse Chavez provide back-end insurance as a string of veteran minor league signings cushion the potential basement, then Darwin Barney keeps the reserve infield position afloat with a top-level glove. Even Drew Storen, this offseason’s splashiest addition, produces a trickle-down depth effect.

Speaking with Bob McCown on Prime Time Sports Wednesday evening, Mark Shapiro continued to hammer away at the issue of depth with this current roster. He focused in on the lack of “championship calibre alternatives” the Blue Jays have at certain positions, and in no case is this more true than at catcher.

A valuable question to use when assessing a team’s overall depth is: “Which position would suffer greatest from the starter missing 50 consecutive games?”

Across the outfield, Toronto should still have one of Michael Saunders or Dalton Pompey waiting in a reserve role. Even Ezequiel Carrera or a hot stretch of Junior Lake could do the trick over two months, though they’d be two injuries away.

The infield has the elite defense of Barney or even the potential to move Jose Bautista in to play third base in the case of a Donaldson injury, not to mention the return of Devon Travis which is expected sometime in May.

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On the mound and in the bullpen, Toronto is slowly building a strong enough stable of fringe-MLB arms. Behind Russell Martin, however, we see Josh Thole, Humberto Quintero and A.J. Jimenez. Mark Shapiro sees it, too.

“What if there’s an injury to Russell Martin? I’m not comfortable with that.”

Shapiro seems to agree with my view on the catching situation in Toronto. That Josh Thole is a fine player to roster as R.A. Dickey‘s personal catcher who sees the odd other game, but is not who you’d hope to turn to over that stretch of 50 games or more.

This drop-off in talent makes Martin’s health absolutely critical to the Blue Jays, and thus, leaved the catching position one unlucky step away from being the roster’s Achilles heel.

A more modest or realistic hope would be that Toronto adds a AAAA catcher to start the year with the Buffalo Bisons. One that may be more talented overall than Thole, and be better able to handle the lion’s share of the workload if Martin does go down.

Quintero doesn’t appear to be that man, now 36 and with a career OPS of .594. Shapiro did express his belief that Martin could still handle the knuckleball, though, so it’s also not entirely out of the question that the Blue Jays add a traditional backup catcher that sends Thole back to Buffalo.

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This isn’t to entirely discount Thole, however, who along with being one of the finer human being’s you’ll find in the game of baseball, has shown a knack with the bat in his younger years.

In 2011 and 2012 with the Mets, Thole appeared in 218 games and produced a .639 OPS with a respectable on-base percentage of .321. Even something of that level might play over an extended stretch, but since that year, his OPS has fallen to .541.

So while fans are hoping to see more spending on the rotation and bullpen, a wise $1.0-2.5 million spent at the catcher’s position could prove, in a worst-case scenario, to be the most valuable investment Toronto makes this entire offseason.