JAYS FROM THE COUCH EXAMINES IF CHRIS IANNETTA IS A POTENTIAL BACKUP CATCHER FOR THE BLUE JAYS NEXT SEASON
On the last day of the MLB Winter Meeting, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Blue Jays discussed a possible deal with free agent catcher Chris Iannetta.
Sources: #BlueJays, in meeting today with Bautista’s reps, also discussed another of the agency’s free agents, catcher Chris Iannetta.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 7, 2016
With the departure of both Blue Jays backup catcher Josh Thole, and Dioner Navarro, the Blue Jays are looking at adding some catching depth to backup everyday catcher Russell Martin. Right now the Blue Jays backup catcher is A.J. Jimenez, who played his 2016 season in Buffalo, has no Major League experience, and is very injury prone. My Jays from the Couch colleague and Minor League Expert Ryan Mueller suggests that Jimenez might have what it takes to make the 25-Man roster and serve as the backup (you can read about that here), the argument being that he would be the same, if not a slight upgrade, as Josh Thole. While this may be true, it seems as though the Blue Jays are in search of more Major League proven talent in Chris Iannetta.
In 2013, Iannetta played in 115 games with the Los Angeles Angels as their primary catcher, his 3.0WAR at the end of the year was no mistake. Slashing an effective .252/.373/.392, hitting 11 home runs, and driving in 40 runs, a stellar 0.68 walk to strikeout ratio, and adding in his great defensive play, Iannetta made for a very, very effective catcher. Since that 2013 season he hasn’t been the same, this past season he would only start in 94 games, slashing .210/.303/.329, with 7 home runs, 23 runs batted in, his walk to strike out ratio has dropped all the way to 0.46.
It’s hard to really pinpoint what caused Iannetta’s regression at the plate, but after four productive seasons it just all of a sudden… vanished. Is he a good bounce back candidate? Maybe. Iannetta will be 34 at the start of next season, and having a bounce back year at 34 isn’t likely, but not impossible.
The one constant that remains the same is his great defensive play. Iannetta’s defence actually continues to improve each season, starting with the strength of his arm. This past season, Iannetta threw out 20 base runners for a CS% of 31%, which is well above league average. This would be a major upgrade for the Blue Jays, as Jays catchers only threw out 20 runners all season, to a CS% of 19% ranking them 27th in the MLB.
One area of his defensive game that saw a dramatic drop off in 2016 was his pitch framing. In 2015, Iannetta was one of the premium pitch framers in the entire MLB, with 14.4 runs above average, and getting 9.1% of all balls called for strikes. This season he wouldn’t post numbers close to that, with a -12.3 runs above average, and 6.3% of balls being called for strikes. While that 2.8% difference in balls being called for strikes might not seem like a lot, it’s mixed with 3.6% change in pitches in the zone called a ball.
Iannetta may have had an off year in regards to pitch framing, but it can be difficult to isolate why there was such a regression in his numbers, but moving to an entirely different pitching staff could be the cause of the problem. Iannetta still could posses the ability to be an effective pitch framer, and is already an upgrade from Navarro who is consistently one of the worst pitch framers in the league.
In 2015, the Seattle Mariners signed Iannetta to an interesting contract which could be pretty similar to what the Blue Jays could sign him for. Agreeing to a 1yr/$4.25mil contract with a team option on the second year for the same amount. The incentives attached to the contract gave him $150k when he hit 75, 80, 85, 115, and 120 games started, and $200k when starting 90, 95, 100, 105, and 110 games. When he hit his 100th start and didn’t finish the season on the deal, the team option for the following year vests. Iannetta didn’t hit his 100th start, allowing the Mariner to decline his team option for 2017.
The Blue Jays could probably get him for a similar deal that the Mariners signed him for. Performing poorly in 2016, the Jays could offer Iannetta less guaranteed money, but make contract incentives based on starts made, and not making his team option attached to any incentives.
The catcher free agent market is stockpiled with a lot of backup options, Iannetta is setup nicely to move into more of a backup role next season. He shows a lot of upside defensively, and maybe, just maybe, he could find his past performance at the plate (even though it’s unlikely). He continues to be one of the better backup catcher options in free agency at the moment, and would be a major upgrade for the Blue Jays behind the plate in comparison to Navarro and Thole.
*FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Laura Smith UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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