For the Toronto Blue Jays and any other off-season spender, the free agent market is comprised of a dozen smaller markets.
There is the right-handed power market, which has trended towards Toronto when it comes to dollars and cents (but with an asterisk of draft pick compensation). Then there is the relief market, which has trended completely away from the Blue Jays as ‘B’ and ‘C’-level relievers cash in on multi-year deals.
One market that is trending in their direction without any clunky variables — or positioning itself to, at the very least — is catching.
The Blue Jays’ catching depth behind Russell Martin is currently led by A.J. Jimenez, who just wrapped up his ninth minor-league season after being drafted by the Jays in 2008. Jimenez hovered just outside of Toronto’s top-10 prospects for several seasons, but has been plagued by injuries throughout his career.
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In 2016, Jimenez had a share of the Buffalo Bisons’ catching duties and was considered by the organization to be the next man up should an injury hit the MLB level. Over 67 games, he hit .241 with a .669 on-base percentage but did throw out 35% of runners, an area where he continues to profile very well.
Mike Ohlman is his closest competition, and while he still holds some enticing power potential in his 6-foot-5 frame, many prospect evaluators project him being moved to a 1B/DH role.
Turning back to free agency, Jason Castro’s three-year, $24.5 million contract did initially set the bar quite high, but there has been little movement at the position since. While many teams could afford to add a 1B alongside their current 1A, there are relatively few teams that at desperate at the position to the point where they are scrambling for a starter.
Matt Wieters still sits atop the market of available catchers, though Buster Olney reports that the Washington Nationals could be a landing spot for the former Orioles’ all-star.
Beyond that, however, is a tier consisting of Kurt Suzuki, Alex Avila, Dioner Navarro, and Chris Iannetta, who was linked to the Blue Jays earlier in December.
This tier offers a variety of talents, both known (Navarro) and unknown (the field). Suzuki, while an appealing option, will factor geography into his 2017 decision according to Mike Berardino, as his family is living in California.
Both Navarro and Iannetta would represent well above-average backup options (the lack of MLB-level catching talent rarely given enough attention), while Avila has the potential to offer even more than that.
The outfield is likely to take priority, of course, containing an everyday hole, while the bullpen is full of vacancies itself. If this market continues to rest quietly, though, it could align well with the Blue Jays, who will be looking to protect their veteran catcher who is entering three seasons at a $20 million annual salary.