J.P. Arencibia did not talk or Tweet his way out of town, much as there will be those out there who paint it as such. No, J.P. Arencibia swung his way out of favour with the Toronto Blue Jayus – swung and missed. And missed again. And again.
Former Montreal Expos and San Francisco Giants manager Felipe Alou had several favourite sayings. One was: “You can’t manage strikeouts.” In other words, a strikeout was the least-effective play in baseball by any batter who wasn’t a starting pitcher.
And that’s the reason Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos elected to non-tender Arencibia at Monday night’s 11:49 p.m. deadline, making Arencibia a free agent after earlier in the day signing free-agent catcher Dioner Navarro to a two-year, $8-million (U.S.) contract. The agreement was made official less than four hours after the deadline for tendering contract offers to all arbitration-eligible players, and Jays sources Anthopoulos spent the day on the telephone trying to work out a trade for Arencibia, resolved to either deal or non-tender him. “Time to move on past J.P.,” a club source said. The team did extend offers to Brett Cecil, Esmil Rogers and Colby Rasmus.
Arencibia, 27, was projected to make $2.7-million in salary arbitration. Even though money isn’t tight around the Blue Jays, the veteran catcher is viewed as simply not worth it – even putting aside a highly publicized Twitter fight with Sportsnet broadcasters Dirk Hayhurst and Gregg Zaun, citing his feeling the two former players were unfair in their criticism of his work behind and at the plate.
The off-season free-agent catching market was highlighted by two names: Brian McCann, who left the Atlanta Braves and signed a five-year, $85-million contract with the New York Yankees (making him the highest-paid catcher of all time) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who did not receive a qualifying offer from the Boston Red Sox and (like Navarro) will not cost his new team a compensatory draft choice.
Navarro, 29, is a switch-hitter coming off a .300 season in which he hit 13 home runs and had an .856 OPS in 89 games for the Chicago Cubs. Navarro was an all-star in 2008 with the Tampa Bay Rays and hit .358 in their World Series loss to the Philadelphia Phillies that year, but he fell out of favour with the organization and was left off the 2010 playoff roster. Navarro has split time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and Cubs since then, and while the Blue Jays scouting reports suggest there has been deterioration in both his throwing and blocking pitches, he is considered to be a good game-caller.
Offensively, Navarro can take a walk – and Arencibia’s .227 on-base percentage in 2013, with 148 strikeouts in 474 at-bats, was one of the worst offensive seasons in baseball history. Navarro’s walk rate in 2013 was 8.6 per cent and his strikeout rate was 13.5 per cent, compared with Arencibia’s 3.6 per cent and 29.8 per cent, respectively. (Navarro’s career numbers are 7.7 per cent and 13.7 per cent.)
It was a low-cost move by Anthopoulos that will earn a thumbs-up from both the analytics community and old-school seamheads (that Arencibia united both factions says a great deal).
Josh Thole will be on the roster as knuckleballer R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher, and if a better option behind the plate does present itself, Navarro – who is expected to make $3-million in 2014 and $5-million in 2015 – can easily slip into what is in the very least a platoon role (he hit .361 as a righty batter against lefties in 2013).
Anthopoulos still has heavy lifting facing him at the GMs’ winter meetings, which start this weekend in Orlando. In a slow-developing market, addition by subtraction is a good start.
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