Blue Jays: Limited options in free agent catching market
The Blue Jays could use a solid back-up catcher to take some of the burden off of a 35 year old Russell Martin. The only problem is, there’s not much on the market.
The Blue Jays front office has mostly talked about the need for a utility infielder and some sort of pitching help this offseason, but there are other needs to round out the roster as well. One of them is at the back-up catcher position, which has mostly been a wasteland in recent years, especially since Russell Martin was signed before the 2015 season, and the job became minimal.
Looking ahead to the 2018 season, Martin will be 35 years old, and if the Blue Jays want to get the best out of their talented backstop, then they’ll bring in some help to give him more regular rest. They relied very heavily on him in 2015 and 2016, getting 129 and 137 games out of him respectively, but he was limited to just 91 in 2017 around several injuries.
The Jays were forced to rely on their depth far more than usual, and it wasn’t exactly a pretty picture. They started the year with Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the role, and after he was cut they tried a whole host of others including Luke Maile, Raffy Lopez, Miguel Montero, and Mike Ohlman. Needless to say, none of them stepped up and grabbed the job, so the Blue Jays will likely look to add this offseason.
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They do have some talented depth in the higher rungs of their minor league system, but it’s assumed the organization would prefer to give regular playing time to guys like Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, and others. They’d all probably benefit from another year of seasoning in the minors anyway, and a more proven commodity would be useful for the big league club in the here and now.
If we’re talking about someone the Jays hope to get 50-60 games out of in 2018, the options are pretty limited on the free agent market. Jonathan Lucroy, Wellington Castillo, and Alex Avila are all available, but I would guess they’ll each pursue a starting gig, and a lot more money than the Blue Jays would be spending. There are a few older veterans like Carlos Ruiz (38) or A.J. Ellis (36), but it’s doubtful they would bring much of an upgrade at this stage of their careers.
If I’m evaluating the picture, there really are only a few options, depending on how much money the Blue Jays are willing to allocate to the position. Chris Iannetta is coming off a season with 17 home runs for the Diamondbacks, but he’s likely looking for more playing time than Toronto can offer if Martin is healthy. Rene Rivera, who spent last season with the Cubs, is available and would be a decent option, as are Chris Stewart and Jose Lobaton, who both hit below the Mendoza line in 2017. For me, the best target is Nick Hundley, who played with the Giants this past season.
Hundley has said that he enjoys playing with the Giants and they seem to like him as well, so maybe he’s not going anywhere. That could depend on how much the Giants spent elsewhere though, say, if they were to trade for Giancarlo Stanton as they’re reportedly trying to do. In that case they might need to save money in other places, and maybe then the Jays could swoop in with a decent offer for the 34 year old.
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Other than the players mentioned the market is incredibly thin, with Miguel Montero being arguably the next best option. That would be a dreadful place for the Blue Jays to have to return to for 2018, so hopefully they can pursue Hundley, or perhaps strengthen the position through a trade. If they want to get the best out of Martin over the last two years of his deal, they’d be well served to try at least.