Exploring Blue Jays options for addressing backup catcher


The Blue Jays catching depth is one injury away from being a potential Achilles heel of this roster, which could necessitate added depth behind Russell Martin

With an all-star-calibre catcher in Russell Martin (his 23 homers and .458 slugging sitting second in MLB among catchers in 2015), the Blue Jays should have no worries for 120-130 games behind the plate.

It is the other 30-40 that are the issue. They do have R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher Josh Thole on the roster, who is seemingly set to go into the season on their 25-man roster.

But it is reasonable that the Jays carry a third catcher, and beyond that their have even been reports of the Jays shopping Dickey (in which case Thole would be on his way out the door as well).

And that isn’t even mentioning the possible (and horrifying) thought that Martin could suffer an injury.

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

Would you want to see Thole, with his lifetime OPS of .634 ,  as a full time catcher over an extended period of time?

I don’t think anybody wants to see that, and president of the Blue Jays, Mark Shapiro, has acknowledged this in a recent interview with Bob McCown on The Fan 590.

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

So assuming the Toronto Blue Jays are looking for another option behind the plate, lets take a look at their options (free agents and trade targets).

Free Agents

Wilin Rosario (27 years old)

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Due to his declining skills behind the plate, this option becomes all the more viable if Dickey and Thole are retained and the Jays opt to go with a third catcher. As a third catcher a player is often expected to be able to play at least one or two other positions, as there is not often lots of playing time for a strictly third string catcher.

While Rosario is no wizard with the glove, and certainly will never be confused for a super-utility player in, he is able to play first base. So if he can work on becoming more flexible position-wise and as a bench bat, this could open him up as an option for the Blue Jays.

While he has been on a steady decline offensively (from a wRC+ of 107 in 2012 to a meagre 73 last season) there is still hope in the bat that hit over 20 homers in ’12 and ’13.

Carlos Corporan (32 years old)

Right off the bat (no pun intended) I would like to mention Corporan’s lack of positional flexibility (outside of his single inning at 1st in 2013!). This only leaves him as an option if the Jays ship off Dickey and Thole, thus creating the need for a more traditional catcher.

Corporan has never been considered elite defensively at catcher, but has graded out positively by FanGraphs ratings over the past several seasons.

While most of his lifetime offensive numbers are surprisingly comparable to Thole’s, he did have two years of around league average production with the bat in 2012 and 2014 (wRC+ of 104 and 93 respectively). So there is a possibility of him getting back to these offensive stats (2014 isn’t that long ago).

This, along with reports of him being a great clubhouse guy, could make him a solid addition, but as I mentioned above, this is likely only going to happen if Dickey and Thole are shipped out of town.

Tony Sanchez (27 years old)

Sanchez was recently released from the club he has been with his whole career, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and therefore became a free agent on January 13th. So being only recently available, his market is only beginning to develop.

Although he has had some pretty good seasons in AAA-ball in recent years. With only about half-season’s worth of cumulative PA’s over the last three seasons its still rather unpredictable. Sanchez holds a career MLB line of .259 / .303 / .378.

With his lack of flexibility defensively and limited experience, he may be looked at more as minor league depth in case of an injury.

Trade Targets 

As a quick note, I ommited catchers who are currently back ups that could easily be starters on another team (such as Andrew Susac of the San Francisco Giants).

Carlos Ruiz (36 years old)

Ruiz by no means is the player he once was. He will never be the player who hit 16 homers to go with a slugging percentage of .540 for the Philadelphia Phillies in ’12.

What he will bring is veteran leadership and decent defence from behind the plate. While he hasn’t been outstanding on defence, he has hovered above zero in DRS consistently and has a Major League career total of 34 defensive runs saved.

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But offence is not often what you are looking for in a back up catcher, and especially so on such an offensive juggernaut as the Toronto Blue Jays.

What you are looking for is stability, leadership and a good relationship with the pitchers. And Ruiz brings all of these things.

Rene Rivera (32 years old)

You may be beginning to notice a pattern of a lack of offence, forsaken for more defence. And this holds especially true for Rene Rivera (his wRC+ of 113 for the Padres in ’14 seems like an aberration at this point).

But he has more than made up for that with his glove.

While his career DRS of 12 at the catching position is nothing to write home about, it’s his work with pitch framing that is easily his most advertised value.

With the expansion of the data we have on such abilities, in recent years Rivera has been lauded as one of the best, if not the best, in the game.

This adds an intriguing wrinkle to this whole thing. With such a great glove, could Rivera learn to catch the knuckle ball and become a better version of Thole?

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Austin Romine (27 years old)

Austin Romine is a very similar case to the previously mentioned Sanchez, as they are both players who were once seen as the future of their respective franchises behind the plate, but have watched other players pass them on the depth chart.

While Sanchez comes with a bit more offensive potential (based on his minor league record) Romine is still a respectable player.

He does, like most catchers, have a bit of flexibility when it comes to shifting over to first base. But beyond that he is strictly a catcher.

So he finds himself in the same boat as Sanchez if he were to brought over to the Blue Jays, he would most likely serve as depth in AAA, ready to come up at the crack of a bone (sorry, terrible joke).

So it isn’t yet a certainty if the Jays will bring a catcher in, as a lot is up in the air regarding the Dickey/Thole situation.

But if they decide to bring more depth in my best guess would be either Tony Sanchez or Austin Romine.

They both could be brought in to the fold on an affordable deal, and would provide much needed depth with the remote possibility that they could raise their stock back to the point they once were in what was meant to be a promising career.