The Blue Jays have an enviable crop of talented catchers and are expected to use one of them in a trade this offseason, reports Jon Morosi of MLB Network.
It’s been speculated for quite some time that the Blue Jays will have to move on from a catcher eventually, given their various options. Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno are all MLB-caliber backstops with varying degrees of experience. Since most teams are lucky to even have one good catcher, let alone three, it’s fairly logical to think they might consider dealing one of them to address another part of the roster. Last offseason, Toronto’s catching mix came up often in offseason chatter and it has only gotten more crowded since then.
Despite the numbers of options available, there were good reasons they didn’t pull the trigger on a deal a year ago. At the end of 2021, Gabriel Moreno was considered one of the top prospects in baseball but only had three Triple-A games on his résumé. Alejandro Kirk had an exciting debut in 2020 but was limited by injury to just 60 games in 2021. Danny Jansen, the longest-tenured of the bunch, also missed significant time in 2021, only getting into 70 contests. Given there was some uncertainty with each of their three choices, it made sense to take a wait-and-see approach.
Here in 2022, Moreno added 62 more Triple-A games, hitting .315/.386/.420 for a wRC+ of 120. He also got into 25 big league contests and produced a .319/.356/.377 line with a 113 wRC+ while looking strong on defense, including throwing out 7 of 17 attempted base stealers. Kirk stayed off the IL and got into 139 games. In that time, he hit .285/.372/.415 for a wRC+ of 129 while also posting 9 Defensive Runs Saved and a 7.6 from the FanGraphs framing metric. Jansen still dealt with injuries and only got into 72 games, though he hit a tremendous 15 home runs in that time and slashed .260/.339/.516 for a wRC+ of 140. His defensive marks were also generally strong, allowing him to post 2.6 fWAR despite playing less than half of the team’s games.
If the Jays felt they had enough catching to consider a trade a year ago, the circumstances have only pushed them further towards that conclusion since then. The only question will be which of the group to move on from. Jansen got a cup of coffee in 2018 but established himself as a regular in 2019 by getting into 107 games. His bat was below average but he provided 12 DRS and earned an 8.1 from the FanGraphs framing metric. His bat has continued evolving in the following seasons, though that has come with durability concerns. Due to the pandemic-shortened season in 2020 and two straight years of injury disruptions, he hasn’t played more than 72 games in a single season since 2019. He also only has two remaining years of club control and is projected for a $3.7MM arbitration salary in 2023 by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.
Kirk and Moreno are each still in their pre-arb years, with the Jays still having four years of club control over Kirk and six over Moreno. That extra cheap control surely makes them more appealing to the Jays in the long term but it would also lead to greater returns in any trade talks. Various teams will likely be considering upgrades behind the plate this winter, including the Astros, Cardinals, Tigers, Cubs, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Twins, Guardians, Pirates, Red Sox and Rays. Some of those teams will look to free agency, with Willson Contreras the top of the market. However, he will surely require a significant contract as well as draft pick forfeiture, since he will undoubtedly receive and reject a qualifying offer from the Cubs. There will be other options available, such as Christian Vázquez, Gary Sánchez, Tucker Barnhart and more, though those players are all older than the trio on Toronto’s roster and will likely earn higher salaries on the open market.
Regardless of how the Jays ultimately decide to play it, this catching surplus might be their best path towards improving the club this offseason. As recently explored by MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk as part of the Offseason Outlook series, the Jays are already slated for a franchise-record payroll, even before making any moves. A few non-tenders could drop that number a bit and ownership could greenlight some extra spending, but it’s possible that the Jays aren’t positioned for huge free agent strikes this winter. If that is indeed the case, a trade centered around one of their backstops could be the ticket to improving the roster for 2023.
Starting pitching will likely be an area of focus for the club, with Ross Stripling departing via free agency and Hyun Jin Ryu set to miss at least part of the season due to Tommy John surgery. They will still have a strong front two in Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman but then a group of guys coming off down years in José Berrios, Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White. Finding starting pitchers that are both cheap and good is generally quite difficult to do, but the Jays look to be in good position to turn to the trade market instead.