The Rays need a catcher. Currently they have Jose Molina and Chris Gimenez splitting time at catcher, neither of which incites any fear at all in the minds of opposing pitchers. The Rays have four catching prospects with promise, Lucas Bailey, Justin O’Conner, Jake DePew, and Oscar Hernandez, but all four are lightyears from the big leagues and the first three have never put anything together yet in the batter’s box as professionals. The Rays need to acquire a catcher that can be their foreseeable future at the position.
The Blue Jays have catchers. At the big league level, they have 26 year old J.P. Arencibia, who hit 20 doubles and 23 homers in his rookie season in 2011, albeit while posting just a .219/.282/.483 line with just a 28% caught stealing percentage and 12 passed balls defensively. Arencibia projects as a power-hitting catcher, but one who will never get on base at a high clip or play great defense.
At Triple-A, the Blue Jays have arguably their top prospect, 23 year Travis d’Arnaud. d’Arnaud had a huge season at Double-A in 2011, posting a .311/.371/.542 line with 33 doubles, 21 homers, and 74 RBI in 114 games. Defensively, he still needs refinement as he mirrored Arencibia with a 27% CS% and 13 passed balls in just 98 games defensively. d’Arnaud’s upside is a .285 hitting catcher who can slam 25 home runs and drive in a whole bunch of runs, and although his defense isn’t quite big league-ready yet, he has shown the arm and the agility behind the plate to be an above-average defensive catcher long term.
And the Blue Jays have a third catcher relatively close to the big leagues, A.J. Jimenez at Double-A. Jimenez is a completely different player than Arencibia and d’Arnaud. In 2011 at High-A, Jimenez had a great season in his own right, posting a .303/.353/.417 line with 29 doubles, 4 homers, 52 RBI, and in a shocking turn for a catcher, 11 stolen bases in 13 tries. However, those stolen bases were unsurprising as he stole 17 in 21 tries in 2010. Jimenez also had 8 sac bunts. Defensively, Jimenez is extremely polished and posted a 44% CS% with just 6 passed balls allowed in 2011. He has an excellent arm with smooth actions behind the plate, and is known for calling a good game. Jimenez projects as a rare 10 homer, 15 steal threat as a catcher who sprays line drive all over the field and hits for a solid, say .275 average, with a decent OBP and excellent defense. Jimenez might not as good of a player as Arencibia and he’s definitely not the caliber of d’Arnaud, but he sounds the most like a Rays player among the three.
So could the Rays swing a deal with the Jays to acquire one of these three guys? Well first of all, have the Rays and Jays ever carried out a trade before? Actually yes, three to be exact. At the 2000 Trade Deadline, the Devil Rays traded starter Steve Trachsel and reliever Mark Guthrie to Toronto in exchange for second baseman Brett Abernathy. All three were off the teams that acquired them in this trade within 2 years (Trachsel and Guthrie were free agents at the end of the year). In December of 2003, the D-Rays and Jays were two of the teams in a three-team trade that included the Rockies were basically the Rays traded one bad starter to the Rockies (Joe Kennedy, although he pitched well after the Rockies acquired him) for another (Mark Hendrickson) from the Blue Jays and the Blue Jays traded a promising pitching prospect, Sandy Nin (who didn’t end up amounting to anything), for a good middle reliever from Colorado, Justin Speier. It was an idiotic trade from the D-Rays that accomplished absolutely nothing for them while bolstering the Jays and Rockies. This seemed like a case of the Rockies and Blue Jays trying to make a trade but then baiting the D-Rays into being the trade’s third party, which again, did not make any sense for them. The third trade was that the D-Rays traded right-hander Chad Gaudin to the Blue Jays for catcher Kevin Cash, an exchange of spare parts. We see from these trades that the Jays and Rays may not be averse from trading with one another but they would rather do either trades that 1) are afterthought trades to begin with or 2) gave their team a huge advantage. It’s also worth noting that the Jays haven’t done a deal with the Rays since they began contending.
That being said, let’s say this: the Jays would be hypothetically willing to trade the Rays a catcher, but it has to be a trade where they clearly come out ahead. We know the Rays would rather carry out a vintage Andrew Friedman steal-of-a-trade to get their catcher of the future, but let’s see what a Rays-Jays trade sending a catcher for the Rays would look like.
A trade sending Arencibia to the Rays would pretty lucidly involve two players: 1) Arencibia (obviously) and 2) Wade Davis. Arencibia and Davis match up pretty well in a trade. By Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement, Arencibia was worth 1.6 WAR from his offense in 2011 (basically meaning he added 1.6 wins to the Blue Jays with his offense) while Davis was worth 1.8 WAR from his pitching in 2011. Arencibia was worth -0.7 WAR from his defense. The Rays need a catcher and Davis could provide the Jays with a cheap, experienced starter or a high-leverage bullpen piece. A straight up deal Arencibia for Davis seems pretty fair. But I don’t think the Jays would do that because Davis struggled in 2011 and maybe Arencibia breaks out after joining the Rays. So let’s expand the deal to this.
I really like this trade scenario because even if the Rays look the losers out of the gate from this trade, I don’t think they could pass it up. The Jays get Davis, at least a utilityman in Brignac and maybe more if he can ever fine the swing that made a top prospect, an enigmatic pitcher in Torres but one who is big league ready and if he improves his control has loads of potential, and also Jeff Malm, a first baseman in the low minors with significant upside, something the Blue Jays lack in their system. The Rays meanwhile would get Arencibia, who we know can be a solid, not great, big league catcher, and Sanchez, a high upside pitcher with great stuff who struggles mightily with command and control right now. Sanchez’s upside is too tantalizing for the Rays for them to pass up this deal. This deal is, I’ll say once again, clearly slanted towards the Blue Jays but I think the Rays would be happy with their return as well.
d’Arnaud appears to be entrenched as the Blue Jays’ catcher of the future. If he somehow was traded, especially within the divison it would be an absolute blockbuster. Let’s have some fun with this.
Tampa Bay Rays trade RHP Wade Davis, LHP Jake McGee, SS Tim Beckham, OF Ty Morrison and 1B Jeff Malm to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for C Travis d’Arnaud, RHP Noah Syndergaard, and UTIL Kevin Nolan.
Whoa. This is a lot to digest. The Rays would be trading two major league players, Davis and lefty Jake McGee, who has failed to pitch well thus far in the majors but has filthy stuff at his best, and they would be adding in former No. 1 overall pick Tim Beckham, who is currently on the minor league DL but could be ready for big league playing time next season, speedy centerfielder Ty Morrison, who stole 58 bases in 2010, and the aforementioned Malm. In return they would get d’Arnaud, who has a ton of potential but still has some work to do defensively and is also coming off left thumb surgery, Noah Syndergaard, a more advanced young arm than Sanchez but still with nice upside, and then a throw-in in Nolan, who can play multiple positions, a trait the Rays like, and he also has a good eye in the batter’s box. The Blue Jays really like d’Arnaud and it’s awfully unlikely that they’ll part with him, but in a trade like this, where they get two guys who can immediately contribute to their big league team and three others with the upside to be above-average or better players down the line, they’ll have to at least give it a look. The Rays would be giving up an awful lot to make this trade happen, but getting d’Arnaud and Syndergaard could make it all worth-it.
And now we get to the third fiddle, A.J. Jimenez. Jimenez would be the easiest of the three to acquire and would be a much more simplistic acquisition.
Tampa Bay Rays trade LHP Alex Torres and 1B Jeff Malm to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for C A.J. Jimenez.
This trade is probably unfair, but that’s what it would take. The Rays get their man in Jimenez while the Jays get a big league ready lefty in Torres with dominating stuff, albeit with inconsistent control, and they also get a first baseman with some upside in Malm. (I have Malm being traded in all three of these trade scenarios, but it’s not like the Rays actually want to trade him- he’s just their first base prospect with the most upside and the first baseman that the Blue Jays would want.) The Rays get the catching prospect they so desperately need, not one who is going to be a superstar, but one who will play great defense and be a solid hitter with a little power and average overall speed, above-average for a catcher, something we know the Rays will utilize. Jimenez could be big league ready by the end of 2013, not nearly as soon as Arencibia and d’Arnaud but certainly good enough considering the Rays have no other prospects remotely near the bigs.
Could one of these trades actually happen? While the Rays would be thrilled to land one of the Jays’ catchers at even a semi-reasonable price, it’s unlikely that the Jays would help out one of the teams ahead of them in the AL East. But the Rays will explore every option, including a trade with the Blue Jays, and with a sweet enough deal, maybe the Rays’ catching situation could suddenly be dealt with.