Different races require different paces. This off-season, it’s been more marathon than sprint right across the board, but the Toronto Blue Jays played the catching market right with their addition of Jarrod Saltamacchia and a series of depth moves.
The Blue Jays did not have that same patience when it came to their first base and designated hitter position, quickly pivoting to Kendrys Morales when Edwin Encarnacion‘s camp did not bite on early offers. The end result of that decision, however, might look just fine in the big picture of 2017 — which is still somewhat unfinished.
Saltalamacchia, 31, comes with starting experience and a strong raw power tool, but coming off a poor season with the Detroit Tigers, his value was right where the Blue Jays needed it to be. Low.
After bringing back Jose Bautista, Toronto was facing limited financial resources to patch up their bullpen, catching depth, and left field situation. Of that group — right field can even be included if you look at this prior to Bautista’s signing — the Blue Jays needed to determine which positions could be best addressed at which prices.
Would a minor-league, buy-low deal be “enough” in right field, left field, or the seventh inning? Unlikely.
At a catching position that recently saw Kurt Suzuki, Alex Avila, and Nick Hundley all max out at $2 million guaranteed ($1.5M+ for Suzuki), the group of catchers on the line between minor-league deals and league-minimum MLB pacts was big. Where the Blue Jays had an advantage, at this later stage in the offseason, is the level of opportunity they could offer.
To a Matt Wieters, there is no appeal in Toronto. Russell Martin has three years and $60 million remaining on his deal, but with A.J. Jimenez — a career minor-leaguer — the favourite to back him up, catchers who accept they won’t be receiving starting offers suddenly view Toronto as an opportunity, not a dead end.
Toronto could very well add more catching depth prior to breaking camp, but the complementary pieces they’ve brought in will be beneficial too.
Juan Graterol, Monday’s waiver claim, can put the ball in play consistently and control the running game. Mike Ohlman holds plenty of power potential in his still-young swing. Alex Monsalve can handle the position at double-A. Reese McGuire, the club’s top catching prospect and potential catcher of the future, is a defensive stud headed for the upper-minors.
The bar for backup catchers in Major League Baseball is a factor here, too. Josh Thole, for all his offensive struggles while specializing with R.A. Dickey, was not an anomaly on the 25-man roster. Across baseball, catching is a thin position heavy on free agent veterans with declining defensive value.
Perhaps that describes Saltalamacchia, but in a reserve role (~35 games), his bat will play. If he’s kept away from left-handed pitchers, which won’t be terribly difficult, it should play even better.
Patience isn’t the fan-friendliest off-season strategy, and in some cases, it comes back to burn the team. When it works, however, it opens the door to tidy, valuable moves.