Blue Jays: A legitimate backup catcher is top off-season priority

CHICAGO, IL - AUG 01: Russell Martin
CHICAGO, IL - AUG 01: Russell Martin /

It’s a combination of luck, magic, and more than that heading into their August 15th game against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Toronto Blue Jays only find themselves 3.5 back of the final playoff spot in the American League.

It sure doesn’t feel that way for myself and likely others as well. People are discussing the outside chance that they do make the wild-card game, but the majority of the chatter is still about the 2018 Blue Jays and the roster.

In my mind, the Blue Jays top priority going into the off-season is finding a legitimate backup catcher to help take the load off of Russell Martin who will be heading into his age 35 season in 2018. The Blue Jays will likely have the following back on the roster for 2018:

There are several candidates to fill out the bench such as Ryan Goins, Darwin Barney, Rob Refsnyder, Ezequiel Carrera, Nori Aoki. The outfield has plenty of options outside of Steve Pearce and Kevin Pillar for who joins them. Dalton Pompey, Teoscar Hernandez, Dwight Smith Jr., and Anthony Alford are all options for right or left field or the bench.

Based on the above, the remaining roster spots that will need to be filled are two to three bullpen spots, 1-2 rotation spots, and 1-2 bench spots. One of those vacant spots includes a backup catcher, something the Blue Jays need pretty desperately. Let’s go through the true contending teams in the MLB right now and look at their catching situations.

As you can see in the list of contending teams, 5 of them listed have both a starting catcher and a backup catcher that provide at or above replacement level production. Some teams like the Yankees who feature a young catcher can rely on a guy like Gary Sanchez for the majority of the year to the point where they can be alright with the below replacement level production received from Austin Romine. The same could be said for the Indians with Gomes and Perez.

Regardless, as you can see, the majority of these teams all have a legitimate starting catcher with a legitimate backup who can provide some value to the team. These teams who have two legit catching options are all in playoff contention, something the Blue Jays will need with an expensive and aging Russell Martin until his contract expires.

It’s not that Russell Martin can’t be effective until his contract expires. He has a 1.8 fWAR this season with a 102 wRC+, but he can’t be relied upon for a heavy workload like he’s had in seasons past. The question then becomes who is out there to backup Martin and take some of the pressure off of him?

The Blue Jays have tried Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Luke Maile, Mike Ohlman, Miguel Montero, and Raffy Lopez behind Martin this season. None have provided any sort of value to the Blue Jays. It’s highly unlikely any of them are back next season, but if there has been one to this point, Luke Maile could be an option.

In terms of organizational depth, the Blue Jays have the likes of Danny Jansen in AAA, Max Pentecost, and Reese McGuire. Dan Jansen has had a fantastic year where he has risen from Dunedin to Buffalo. Pentecost has experienced a wealth of injuries throughout his minor league career and Reese McGuire has had a decent season in AA. Jansen seems the most likely to be ready for a backup job in 2018, but unless he has a great spring, I would imagine the Blue Jays give it to a veteran, perhaps someone who they will try to acquire in free agency.

Some free agent catchers who will be on the market next season include Hank Conger, Nick Hundley, Chris Iannetta, Jonathan Lucroy, Rene Rivera, Kurt Suzuki, and other options. Lucroy won’t sign as a backup, and others on the list may or may not hit the free agent market. It doesn’t seem as if the free agent market would provide much in the way of backup catching options.

The Blue Jays will go into 2018 with Russell Martin as the primary catcher. At 35 years, Martin shouldn’t be relied upon as heavily as he has the past few seasons. The Blue Jays need to keep Martin healthy, and as productive for as long as possible given the money, he’s owed until his contract expires. That means getting someone who can play semi-often and be productive. A backup catcher who can provide value is the top priority this off-season in my mind. It will be interesting to see how it is handled and who that backup option is.