Will the Blue Jays be impacted by the free agent catching market?
Heading into the offseason, the Blue Jays will have to make some decisions regarding the future of their roster. Depending on whether or not they bring back Ross Stripling, by way of the qualifying offer or a multi-year deal, will play a big part in how close the club ends up being close to the luxury tax, and whether Rogers will be willing to spend past it for the first time in club history.
Not only is the Stripling decision going to impact the salary outlook, but the front office will also need to explore extending some of the core players like Bichette and Guerrero Jr to long-term contracts sooner rather than later. Factor in that Ross Atkins and co. could also look to move a few pending free agents next year this offseason, Jays fans might be in for a few tough decisions this winter.
One area that has been a prominent debate amongst the fans is what the Jays will do with three MLB-ready catchers on their roster. Danny Jansen has the most experience and has the most impact on the salary cap considering he is hitting the second year of arbitration this offseason, Alejandro Kirk had a fantastic campaign that only increased his value, and Gabriel Moreno looks ready to make the jump to the MLB yet likely holds the most value of all three given his talent and controllable years.
We could sit here and debate why one should get traded over the other two until we are blue in the face, but one thing that might hinder trading any catchers this offseason (if they try to do so) is the fact that a lot of starting catchers are heading to free agency this offseason as well.
The free agent catching market has some strong candidates
While Yadier Molina, Stephen Vogt, and Kurt Suzuki are hanging them up, the likes of Willson Contreras, Gary Sánchez, Mike Zunino, Roberto Pérez, Martin Maldonado, Christian Vázquez, and Tucker Barnhart are all free agent eligible this offseason. These catchers are ones I would consider to be at least capable of being a starter for most teams across the MLB, with each having their own strengths and weaknesses both offensively and defensively behind the plate.
With that in mind, could other teams look to the open market to satisfy their backstops needs instead of trading for one? Especially since signing one of these players will not cost any prospect capital or a full-time MLB player, which the Blue Jays will likely be after in the form of a left-handed bat or a starting pitcher to help with postseason aspirations rather than a prospect who needs to develop some more in the Minor Leagues.
Factor on top of that a few teams across the MLB will also look to fill their catching roles internally like the Guardians with Bo Naylor, the Mets with Francisco Álvarez, and the Angels with Logan O’Hoppe, and the potential of the Jays trading one of their backstops might not be as simple as we think.
The Blue Jays and the return for one of their catchers
The biggest return would likely come from trading Kirk or Moreno, mostly because both players have lots of controllable years left before hitting free agency.
That type of contract control as well as their overall potential and talent will not come cheap, and with the Blue Jays looking to contend now, trading for prospects is not in the cards (or at least shouldn’t be).
The Jays also have Jansen, who will command less in trade value as he is under team control only through 2024, but he would likely have to package with a prospect or two if the Jays are looking to add a left-handed batter or a starting pitcher of any value unless they are willing to take on a bad contract (which seems unlikely given the looming salary crunch).
Last offseason was a different story, as the catching market was quite thin and the Jays were reportedly looking at acquiring Jose Ramirez from the Guardians, with Kirk a likely piece heading the other way. This year is different, however, as there is an influx of starting catchers available to be signed and quite a few top prospects at the position are close to the MLB level, defeating the purpose of trading for a Kirk or Moreno type. This could really hamper the Jays’ front office in trying to trade one of their backstops if they are looking to do so, as there are alternative options for rival clubs if the Blue Jays asking price is too high (which it should be for Kirk and Moreno).
This of course could be mute if the Jays decided to move Moreno from behind the plate, using him at other positions such as second base, third base, or a corner outfield spot. They experimented with this in the last game of the year against Baltimore and with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernández heading to free agency next winter, it might not be such a bad idea to convert him to a corner outfield spot, however, you would lose his rocket of an arm from behind the plate.
It will be interesting to see what the Blue Jays do this offseason given the potential Stripling qualifying offer, the fact they still need a manager (whether it is Schneider or not), and a looming 2024 free-agent class that includes some prominent names on the roster like Hernandez and Matt Chapman.
Will the Blue Jays dip into their catching depths and try to deal one of their backstops? Will they head into the 2023 campaign with three catchers on the roster? Will Moreno move from behind the plate?
We shall wait and see.