Catcher is known to be a priority for the Blue Jays this offseason, and Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun reports that the team is interested in Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger of the Angels. According to Elliott, the Blue Jays have already begun their efforts to acquire one of Anaheim’s backstops.
As MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk noted in analyzing the Blue Jays’ upcoming offseason, the team is set at most offensive positions with the exception of catcher and second base. Mark noted that while incumbent J.P. Arencibia may not be non-tendered, his days as the team’s starter are likely over. Toronto’s desire to acquire one of the Angels’ catchers and their interest in Washington’s Wilson Ramos seem to support that line of thinking.
Iannetta, who turns 31 next April, might at first appear to be similar to Arencibia given his low batting averages and escalating strikeout rate (25.1 percent in 2013). However, Iannetta has always been adept at drawing a walk. In fact, he drew nearly as many walks in 399 plate appearances in 2013 (68) as Arencibia has in his entire career (74). Overall, Iannetta batted .225/.358/.372 for the Halos in the first season of a three-year, $15.5MM extension. He’ll earn $4.975MM in 2014 and $5.525MM in 2015. In each of those seasons, his contract calls for an additional $100K bonus for starting 90 games at catcher and $125K when he reaches each of 100, 110, 115, 120 and 125 starts behind the dish.
The switch-hitting Conger batted .249/.310/.403 in 2013. He’ll turn just 26 years old in January and won’t be eligible for arbitration until next offseason. Originally selected by the Angels with the No. 25 overall pick in the 2006 draft, Conger has never gotten a full season’s worth of at-bats with the Halos despite a robust .298/.371/.470 slash line in 854 career plate appearances at Triple-A.
As we saw last offseason, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has no problem dealing young talent to fill holes on his big league roster. Though the Blue Jays’ farm system was depleted after acquiring R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson in trades, the team still has plenty of minor league pitchers that would pique the Angels’ interest. According to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, the Blue Jays’ top six prospects are all pitchers, though a top prospect along the lines of Aaron Sanchez would seem far too steep a price for either of the catchers in question.
If the Blue Jays really want to get aggressive, they could look to structure a deal that would land one of Iannetta or Conger as well as second baseman Howie Kendrick, who is known to be available. While that scenario is purely my speculation, such a trade would address both of the major holes highlighted in Polishuk’s outlook. The Blue Jays own two of the first 11 picks in next year’s draft, so they would have ample opportunity to add high-end talent to their farm system following another aggressive winter on the trade market.
Okay, a few bits of house cleaning regarding this latest rumour. First, CAN WE STOP LOOKING AT LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM CATCHERS PLEASE. Napoli, Mathis, and now Iannetta and Conger? There are 28 other teams in Major League Baseball: feel free to consider them occasionally.
Second, yes Aaron Sanchez is too steep of a price unless you’re throwing in 2B Kendrick and OF Bourjos with either of those humps.
Third, yes Iannetta drew a bunch of walks but he still can’t hit. Moving to The Rog may boost his offense but I hope the ship has sailed on poor-hitting catchers in Toronto.
That said, we all know how important defense and staff handling are for catchers. Fangraphs has him as a negative hitter for his career. He struck out 160 times in his last 652 PAs. He’s a plus defensive catcher albeit a weak plus defender lately. He’ll be 31 in early April and he’s never caught a knuckle ball. I have very little about ‘staff handling’ to pass on to you.
Fourth, Iannetta’s not terribly durable. He’s exceeded 100 games 3 times (’13, ’11, ’08) in a career that began in 2006.
Fifth, is Iannetta really a $5MM catcher? Really?
Sixth, does anyone consider “.298/.371/.470 slash line in 854 career plate appearances” with Salt Lake in the PCL to be “robust”? JP Arencibia was a .267/.320/.530 hitter in AAA, including a .301/.359/.626 line as the PCL MVP in 2010. Perhaps Conger’s .225/.295/.368 with 107 K in 457 AB at the ML level is indicative.
Finally, www.tsn.ca says it all in their scouting report about Chris Iannetta. They tell us that he calls a good game behind the dish but, wait, it gets better. And I quote: “Can be all-or-nothing at the dish: takes a huge cut when he swings and strikes out too much. Has holes in his swing (and would benefit by shortening it up)”, “Inconsistent catcher with power”, and “Needs work on throwing runners out”. This sounds awfully familiar…
Frankly I prefer the Wilson Ramos rumour myself.