The Toronto Blue Jays are targeting a traditional backup catcher with the departure of R.A. Dickey and Josh Thole
Lost in the discussion of the Toronto Blue Jays needs in the outfield and bullpen is the state of their upper-levels catching depth, which has grown rather thin behind starter Russell Martin.
Josh Thole is no longer necessitated by the presence of R.A. Dickey, so the Blue Jays will be seeking a more traditional backstop to pair alongside Martin. With Martin entering the final three years of his contract — all worth $20 million — this is a position that should be addressed rather aggressively to help preserve one of the team’s priciest assets.
On Thursday, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet suggested two names to monitor leading in to free agency. The first is veteran Carlos Ruiz, a lifelong Phillie who was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers in late August.
“The Dodgers are believed to be looking to offload the veteran’s $500,000 buyout to a team interested in picking up his $4.5 million option for next year,” Davidi wrote. “Teams may be reluctant to pay that for Ruiz, although picking it up is a way to bypass the market.”
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This is a strategy being employed more often now — the Marlins are believed to be attempting the same with reliever Fernando Rodney — and it does have some logic. Instead of tempting the open market and all the risks that come along with it, teams have the ability to deal for the option years on a player. With the dealing team typically avoiding a buyout fee, the cost of transaction is softened.
Ruiz, the 37-year-old Panamanian, has put together a very nice career and should still have some value left in a supporting role. His bat is now limited to ~5 home runs per season, but with a strikeout-to-walk rate that has often flirted with being even, his on-base percentage and quality at-bats bring some steady value.
Defensively, Ruiz is coming off another strong season in which he threw out 42% of would-be base stealers and produced 7 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved). His ability to handle a pitching staff well would also allow the Blue Jays to rest Martin without risk of their rotation feeling an impact.
One interesting wrinkle to the Ruiz angle is J.A. Happ, who worked with Ruiz as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. Behind Martin, the Ruiz is the catcher that Happ has worked the most with. Over 151.2 innings together, Happ posted a 2.97 ERA and held opponents to a .234 batting average. This really shouldn’t be given much weight, but the familiarity is worthy of note.
The other name Davidi mentions is Ryan Hanigan, the former Boston Red Sox catcher whose $3.75 million team option for 2017 was just bought out for $800,000. Davidi notes that the Blue Jays “have had past interest in” the 36-year-old.
Hanigan eventually fell well behind the breakout star of Sandy Leon at the crowded position in Boston, having one of his poorest seasons at the plate. He hit just .171 in 113 plate appearances, but his 2015 line of .247 / .337 / .328 (.664 OPS) over 54 games games is what potential suitors would be hoping to capture while having him in a reserve role.
Whereas Ruiz remains a fringe starter with above-average offensive tools for a backup catcher, Hanigan represents more of a typical skill set from a number two backstop. Depth of talent at the position is relatively weak league-wide, making strong secondary options very difficult to come by at the position.