Blue Jays 2018: Backup Catcher Options
By Jim Scott
The release today of Raffy Lopez re-raises the question of who the Jays will play at backup catcher in 2018.
The Jays outrighted catcher Javier Lopez on Monday. Lopez was the only catcher, other than Russell Martin, to earn a positive fWAR in 2017. Which re-begs the question: who should the Jays use as their backup catcher in 2018?
The existing options (Miguel Montero and Luke Maile) are both problematic, Each had a -0.6 fWAR in 2017, and each had issues with their game. As Russ is not getting any younger, it behooves the Jays to find a better option.
One alternative would be for the Jays to use an internal option. Lopez himself might re-sign, and if not then players like Danny Jansen (Baseball America first-team all-minors all-star in 2017), Reese McGuire and Max Pentecost are all considered MLB-level talents … eventually. But there is considerable question as to whether any of them would be ready to assume a backup role as early as the start of 2018.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays could trade for a young catcher, but given how close the Jansens and McGuires are to an MLB gig, adding more young catching to the system might be counterproductive.
The free agent market is another option. But players like Alex Avila, Jonathan Lucroy, and Chris Iannetta will be expensive, and will likely be looking for full-time gigs, while free agents like Geovany Soto and Chris Stewart might not be significant upgrades to the Jays’ existing options. A player like Rene Rivera might be an option, with his 91 wRC+ in 2017, but his 70 in 2016 and 32 (!) in 2015 might give the Jays pause.
One other option, which carries some risk, is to wait and see what other teams do. It is possible that these teams could choose to not exercise options on catchers who might fill the Jays’ needs,
Which brings us to Chris Gimenez.
Chris was outrighted by the Twins on Monday, likely due to 40-man roster concerns. At 34, Chris is a veteran MLB backup catcher. His catching performance in 2017 was generally good, throwing out 30% of would-be base stealers. His .18 passed balls per 9 innings were troubling (MLB average is about half that) but his career numbers are closer to MLB average. The second most interesting thing about Chris is his hitting. Over the last three years, he has averaged a 92 wRC+, including a 100 in 2017 – very good for a backup catcher. His projected arbitration award for 2018 was $1 million, so he would not be expensive.
But the most interesting thing about Chris is his backup job. Chris holds the modern-era record for pitching appearances by a catcher, with 6 appearances in 2017. He has also played at first, third and left field, and says that it is one of his life ambitions to one day play all 9 positions in a single game. Not a deciding factor, but interesting!
Next: Blue Jays: Predictions as Free Agency opens
The bottom line
The Jays might do well to sign Chris now, to ensure that they have a backup plan, and then to watch the trade and waiver wires to see if a stronger option presents itself. But they could do worse than to end up with 2017 Chris – a 100 wRC+ and a 3.2 fWAR/600.