The Blue Jays have two high performing MLB catchers and one high ceiling catching prospect. The question is, what do they do with all of them?
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The Blue Jays are in an enviable position regarding the catching situation in their organization. This leads to the question – what is the best way for Toronto to utilize Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno? Should they trade one of them to fill other needs and if so, which one? Is it realistic to try to keep all three, and how would they use them if they do?
Let’s start by looking at each one, their strengths and weaknesses:
Jansen made his MLB debut with the Jays in 2018. His major league career to date has been a mixed bag. Throughout his minor league career, he was known as a bat first catcher. In his first full season with the Jays in 2019, his DEF (fielding) rating was 17.4 per Fangraphs, also good for a top three finish in AL Gold Glove voting that season. His hitting in 2019 was another story, with a wRC+ of only 68. It is reasonable to think that his focus that season was on being the best defensive catcher he could be and his offence might have suffered as a result.
Here is a snapshot of his MLB career:
Year wRC+ Fielding value (Fangraphs)
2019 68 17.4
2020 84 3.00
2021 105 6.40
2022 153 0.1
Jansen has a career caught stealing percentage of 23.4 (31.1 in 2019). He has also become known for his skill at calling games and handling a pitching staff – something that might not show up in defensive metrics. An unfortunate development is that Jansen has had four separate IL stints so far in 2021-2022. While the current, most recent stint (hand fracture resulting from being hit by a pitch) can hardly be held against Jansen in terms of his ability to stay on the field and contribute, the other IL stints are a concern.
On one hand, it could be very disruptive to the Jays pitching staff to lose Jansen and his game calling ability. Over his career, he has shown the ability to excel both offensively and defensively although he has struggled to put both parts to his game together in the same season. He is under team control through the end of the 2024 season, then he is eligible for free agency at age 30. But while Jansen fans hate to think this way, the catching position is one of the hardest (if not THE hardest) in terms of the toll it takes on a player’s body. If you can’t stay healthy, you can’t contribute and with health in mind, is it possible that Jansen has begun the down side of his career?
Has there been a more pleasant surprise in baseball than Kirk so far in 2022? If Jansen came up as a bat first catcher, Kirk was that much more so.
After a slow start to the 2022 season, Kirk has gotten red hot lately. His wRC+ of 152 is 1st among American League catchers with a minimum 100 plate appearances, 2nd in MLB (Contreras 162). Kirk is also 1st in the AL in catcher’s rWAR at 1.8, also 2nd in MLB to Contreras (2.2). Among his offensive skills, Kirk’s walk rate (12.2%) is higher than his strike out rate (9.3%).
There has been steady improvement in Kirk’s overall defence behind the plate. His 5.1 DEF rating is 8th best among 59 catchers with a minimum of 100 innings caught in 2022. He has a career caught stealing percentage of 21.8; this is considerably better so far in 2022 (31.6)
Kirk has as much to do with the Blue Jays current hot streak (winners of 16 of their last 21 games) as any of his teammates.
Kirk spent a significant part of the 2021 season on the IL due to a hip flexor injury (from May 3, 2021-July 23, 2021). In 2022 he has played in 48 games but only 30 at catcher (28 as the starting catcher). His bat is valuable enough that it is worth having him DH much of the time when he isn’t behind the plate, but at age 23, the Jays might already have concerns about Kirk in terms of his ability to be an every day catcher. Kirk comes with lots of team control, through the end of the 2026 season.
Do the Jays expect Kirk’s recent success to continue? If not, it’s possible that their best move would be to “sell high” on him and get a very good return by trading him away now.
While the hype surrounding Moreno hasn’t quite been “Guerrero jr esque”, I’d say it has been close. 22 year old Moreno is currently the Jays top prospect, 4th highest ranked in all of MLB. He is projected to have a very high upside as a very good, two way catcher. Here are his tools ratings:
Moreno has an OPS of .845 in five minor league seasons and a caught stealing percentage of 38 (!)
It doesn’t seem likely that the Jays would trade Moreno, nor is it (really) the option that I think is best. But some might argue that there is no such thing as a can’t miss prospect. How many highly rated prospects have ended up not working out in MLB, for different reasons? They have two catchers who are having success in MLB and if they were to trade Moreno, they could expect a very substantial return that could help them with other areas of need.
While it hasn’t yet been officially announced, several MLB media people have reported that Moreno is meeting up with the Jays in Detroit and the plan is to activate him sometime during their upcoming three game series vs the Tigers where we would expect to see him make his MLB debut.
The idea of carrying three catchers on a major league roster for any length of time is an unusual one to be sure, although the Jays had three catchers for a significant part of the 2022 season earlier on. Would anyone the Jays could acquire by trading one of their prized backstops bring them more value than the player they would be trading away? Would they win more games in 2022 by trading away a catcher?
Many believe that Moreno has the highest upside of this trio of backstops and they might be correct. Then again, raw rookies don’t always have success when they first come to MLB, and the Jays are in win now mode. As long as Jansen is on the IL, Kirk and Moreno can share the catching duties. Even if Jansen is activated sooner than later and assuming Moreno isn’t over matched in MLB, there is room for all three on the roster. They can share the catching duties and Kirk can DH some of the time when he isn’t behind the plate. This would give Moreno the benefit of two experienced catchers to mentor him as he continues to work on areas of his game that are a work in progress. As time goes on, Kirk might become a part time catcher and spend a good deal of time at DH. Jansen, in order to stay healthy as long as possible, might end up as a back up catcher as well. If they lose Jansen to free agency after 2024, hopefully by then their catcher of the future will be well entrenched in the role.
Sometimes in order to win it all, teams need to do things in an unconventional manner. One thing is certain – it will be very interesting to see what Jays management decides.
*Featured Images Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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