As the Blue Jays seek to improve their roster ahead of the 2022 offseason, they’re fortunate to have some depth in an area that many others are looking for.
As deep as this free agent class is, and there is a lot of talent available on the open market, one area where there is hardly any depth at all is at the catching position. Former Blue Jay Yan Gomes is easily the top available free agent option, and there’s a pretty steep drop off after that. The best of the bunch would include names like Luke Maile, Stephen Vogt, and Wilson Ramos, so it’s a pretty underwhelming class of catchers. As Mike Petriello at MLB.com pointed out, teams have been moving quickly to find the few available options, as the Tigers struck quickly to trade for Tucker Barnhart, and Atlanta has already signed Manny Pina.
And if the Blue Jays are smart, they’ll do whatever they can to leverage this situation to their advantage.
Last season we saw three different catchers spend significant time on the big league roster in Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, and Alejandro Kirk, and that’s without including Riley Adams, who was traded to Washington in the ill-fated swap for Brad Hand. That mostly worked because Jansen spent a fair bit of time on the Injured List, and it’s doubtful that they’ll use three of their 26 MLB roster spots on catchers again unless they view Kirk as more of an option as a full-time DH.
On top of that trio, one of the worst kept secrets in baseball this winter has been the emerging talent of Gabriel Moreno, who is now the Blue Jays’ top prospect. The 21 year old terrorized Double-A pitching this year, and kept it up throughout the Arizona Fall League schedule, where he was an All-Star. Chances are good that Moreno will start next season in Triple-A, but I think it’s fair to expect that he’ll make his way to the big leagues at some point next summer, which only complicates the log jam even more. Moreno has spent some time at third base as well and could look at playing there a little more, but I’m guessing the Blue Jays will still look to trade a catcher over the winter.
On top of needing to create some room at the position, it works nicely that the timing lines up as far as market need. There should be several teams looking for improvements behind the plate, not the least of which could include the Giants (if they don’t hand the job to Joey Bart after Buster Posey’s retirement), the Yankees (I think they’ll move on from Gary Sanchez this time), and likely several more. The Jays have the added bonus of being able to offer a young and controllable catcher, which could expand the field of potential suitors to include those that are rebuilding, or at least a year or two away from contending.
I’ve long held the belief that the Jays would shop Alejandro Kirk over the winter, and despite the fact that I’m a big fan of the young slugger, I think it’s the right move as well. It feels pretty inevitable that Moreno will be the catcher of the future in Toronto unless they decide to move him away from the position, and even then Jansen and McGuire are a pretty capable tandem. It wasn’t long ago that Kirk was on a few Top 100 prospect lists, and I’m sure that his potent bat would make him pretty appealing to a number of teams.
In my view, I feel like his trade value is still pretty high, and it’s hard to say if it’ll get much higher. I mostly say that because it’s clear that Kirk is an unfinished product on the defensive side of things, and I worry that it could hurt his future value on the trade market. Still just 23 years old, I think you could easily sell the fact that he’s young and still learning, which has mostly come on the fly at the big league level.
How can the Blue Jays take advantage of this? It really depends on which teams ultimately come calling about their catching depth, but I think there’s a significant opportunity here. For example, if a team like the Miami Marlins had interest in Kirk then I’m sure the Blue Jays would love to talk to them about the depth in their rotation. It’s also entirely possible that rival GM’s call about Jansen or McGuire as well, which would likely come at a lower price.
However things shake out, Ross Atkins and his front office team have an opportunity to use one roster strength to address another weakness. Given the lack of catching depth on the free agent market this winter, there could be a lot of value to be had.