The Blue Jays appear set to start the season with uke Maile as their back-up catcher. If they’re not satisfied, there are other options becoming available.
Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro addressed almost every position on the diamond this offseason in one form or another. They brought in several new outfielders, a ton of bullpen arms to look at, and a few new faces that can play around the infield. The one area that was left unaddressed was at back-up catcher.
Luke Maile appears set to take on the role with the big league roster, at least to start the season. He was arguably the best option behind Martin last season in a year that watched the Blue Jays audition several catchers on the fly. They also tried others like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rafael Lopez, Miguel Montero, Mike Ohlman, and Maile, and varying degrees of a lack of success.
Maile was by far the best defensive option, but unfortunately he just wasn’t able to contribute on offence. That’s not usually the biggest deal as the back-up catcher, but in a season that saw Martin play just 91 games, it would have been nice to have a little more production at the plate from the guy sitting behind it. In 130 at bats he hit just .146/.176/.231 with two home runs and seven RBI.
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In his defence, he was dealing with a nagging knee injury for the majority of his time spent on the field, battling through the pain when the Blue Jays needed someone to strap on the catcher’s gear in Martin’s absence. Perhaps that’s played into their trust in him, knowing that a healthier version of him could contribute more at the plate than he did last year, arguably on one leg.
However, if the Blue Jays do decide they would like an upgrade at the back-up catching position, there is at least one option available as of this writing, and there could be more before Opening Day kicks off on March 29th.
For example, the Cleveland Indians have already designated Ryan Hanigan for assignment, deciding they couldn’t keep him on their 40 man roster with the rest of the catching talent they have in house. He played in just 33 games with the Colorado Rockies last season, but he’s a career .254/.344/.334 hitter known for solid defence. The Blue Jays are familiar with him from his time between the Rays and Red Sox between 2014-2016.
There could be others as well, as there are rumours floating around that the Philadelphia Phillies could be cutting bait with Cameron Rupp, or at least looking for a late trade partner. Rupp earned 1.0 bWAR last year while hitting 14 home runs for the Phillies and slashing .217/.299/.417. His dWAR rating on baseballreference.com also sat at +0.5 last year, so he’s far from a liability on defence either.
Of course, the Blue Jays could just decide to roll with Maile and rely on the likes of Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire and others if there is an injury. Maile has had time with the pitching staff in camp to get prepared, so he has a leg up on anyone who could come into camp now in that regard. We also have to keep in mind that back-up catchers don’t have to hit a lot to win their job, and with Jansen and/or McGuire waiting and ready to play full time if Martin gets injured at any point, Maile is likely more than capable of filling the role he’s needed in for 2018.