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Jays GM says cutting ties with Arencibia ‘not an easy decision’

Toronto Blue Jays' J.P. Arencibia reacts to striking out against the Chicago White Sox during the seventh inning of a baseball game on Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, in Chicago.

Andrew Nelles/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Alex Anthopoulos says he was always of the opinion there would be brighter days ahead for J.P. Arencibia.

It just will not happen in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform.

The Jays general manager spoke with reporters Tuesday on the rationale behind cutting ties with the team's starting catcher, who had been with the organization since 2007.

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"You build relationships with these players the longer they are in the organization," Anthopoulos said. "I, obviously, got to know him when he was in the minor leagues, and I've seen him come up and be our starter for a few years. So that was not an easy decision at all. I called him on Sunday night to let him know what was going on."

What was going on was the move most were expecting after Arencibia endured a horrific season in 2013: The Blue Jays would not tender him a contract before Monday's midnight (EST) deadline.

Instead, Toronto opted to go in a new direction, signing free-agent catcher Dioner Navarro to a two-year, $8-million (U.S.) contract Monday.

"Navarro was someone who, certainly, he was not in an everyday role last year [with the Chicago Cubs]," Anthopoulos said.

"He has been in an everyday role in the past. But [he's] someone who has pretty good contact rate, low strikeouts, pretty good on-base skills and has been able to take a walk and work the count.

"And from a game-calling standpoint, the work that we did on him, I think everyone really raved about his game-calling and how guys loved throwing to him.

"When we looked at the lineup that we had, and ways to improve the team, we just felt like he was a better fit for us right now."

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The switch-hitting Navarro, 29, has not been an everyday catcher since 2009, when he started 115 games for the Tampa Bay Rays, the year after he was named to the American League all-star team.

In 2013, Navarro enjoyed a solid season with the Cubs, batting a career-best .300 in 89 games with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs.

Navarro had a decent .365 on-base percentage – a vast improvement over Arencibia, who did little at the plate last season except hit for power (21 home runs, tied for the second-highest total among starting catchers in the majors).

Beyond that, his plate production was abysmal: A .194 batting average and .227 on-base percentage, to go along with 148 strikeouts against just 18 walks.

The signing of Navarro freed the Blue Jays from the obligation of having to tender Arencibia a contract offer, thereby making the 27-year-old a free agent.

Anthopoulos says he had no explanation as to why Arencibia regressed this past year. (The catcher hit 18 homers with a .233 average and .275 OBP in 125 fewer at-bats in 2012.)

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"I wish I did," the GM said. "And I said this before, I do think he's going to bounce back."

Arencibia played hurt a lot of the time in 2013 and almost landed on the disabled list at one point, Anthopoulos says, but the GM has no idea if that was at the root of the catcher's woes.

"We've seen him play with a broken hand and things like that," Anthopoulos said. "But I really don't know. Certainly, we didn't expect it, we didn't expect him to have that kind of a year.

"Maybe it was injury-related, maybe, just again, things aren't going your way."

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