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J.P. Arencibia and the St. Louis Cardinals Catching Options

A look at the catching prospects on the rise with a focus on 2007 draftee J.P. Arencibia. Is his time coming to a close in Toronto?

Chances are J.P. Arencibia wants to repatriate anyway. Aye?
Chances are J.P. Arencibia wants to repatriate anyway. Aye?
G. Newman Lowrance

There's been a lot of talk about depth lately. Catching depth. Prospect depth. We like to think deep thoughts at VEB of late. It's all good but I think that it is looking at things through too perfect a prism. It ignores the flaws that other teams are dealing with.

Last year there were exactly 10 catchers who qualified for the batting title. The cutoff is just north of 500 PAs. Two thirds of the teams in the league didn't have catchers that played 130+ games. Yadi Molina spoiled us badly last season by not just playing 138 games but being an MVP caliber player. Buster Posey, who we saw far too much of in the NLCS, did much the same thing to the Giants.

The truth is that most catchers are pretty bad. Of the 10 teams that had a catcher qualify for the batting title, only 3 were in the playoffs. The other 7 teams had more pronounced time share arrangements than the Cardinals. If the Giants lose Buster Posey, they have Hector Sanchez to fall back on. Sanchez actually accumulated over 200 PA last year. He walked in 2.2% of those plate appearances. He was awful. Of the teams that made the playoffs, only the Braves had a legitimate backup option that didn't see a precipitous drop off in quality with Cody David Ross following Brian McCann.

If the Cardinals can snag a Kelly Shoppach on the free agent market for cheap, by all means do so. But the truth is that they're better served by drafting heavy on catching over the next two years and seeing if anyone emerges. Catching prospects are had to come by and nearly as unreliable as pitchers.

Last season, Baseball Prospectus ranked 10 catchers in their top 101:

  • Jesus Montero, 7
  • Travis d'Arnaud, 16
  • Devin Mesoraco, 24
  • Yasmani Grandal, 38
  • Gary Sanchez, 40
  • Wilin Rosario, 61
  • Austin Hedges, 94
  • Derek Norris, 96
  • Ryan Lavarnway, 98
  • Jorge Alfaro, 101

You can take Montero off that list -- he'll never stick at catcher. Yasmani Grandal is suspended for PED usage. Gary Sanchez is 21 playing in High A ball. Wilin Rosario was the Rockies primary catcher in 2012. (He played well posting a .356 wOBA over 400+ PAs.) The last four guys on the list aren't anything special. You could look at acquiring Devin Mesoraco but he plays for the Reds. Will Jocketty trade him within the division? Is he someone you're still interested in after an awful 2012 performance that was mostly spent on the Reds bench?

If there's a player that you look at acquiring, and I'm not necessarily advocating for it, you look to the Blue Jays. Travis d'Arnaud is a stud. He's posted two seasons of .400+ wOBA in the minors during 2011 and 2012 at AA and AAA respectively. He is the Blue Jays catcher of the future. The Cardinals won't be able to acquire d'Arnaud ...

... but they could acquire a long time favorite of mine in J.P. Arencibia. Arencibia will be 27 heading into next season and he's still in the 0-3 range. He'll be arbitration eligible after 2013 for the first time. The Blue Jays have also signed Jeff Mathis to a contract through 2014 with a 2015 option.[1]

Arencibia was drafted in the same round as warlock and starting shortstop in the 2012 playoffs, Pete Kozma. He worked his way to AAA Las Vegas (a notorious hitter's park) and posted a .301/.359/.626 line in 2010 that earned him Pacific Coast League MVP honors. Before Travis d'Arnaud was the next big thing behind the plate for the Blue Jays, J.P. Arencibia was. (Kozma hit .243/.318/.384 for his minor league career best .702 OPS that year.) While Arencibia has struggled in the majors, he has the prospect pedigree.

And he hasn't been completely useless in the majors. He's maintained a good portion of that power with a .211 ISO over 895 PAs. Arencibia's problem has been a low walk rate coupled with high strikeouts and a terrible BABIP. He's got a propensity to pop the ball up, which is why it's unwise to describe his BABIP as unlucky, and has the profile of a player who is swinging for the fences every at bat. But as far as backup catchers go, it's hard to argue that Arencibia wouldn't be worthy of the job.

He won't be cheap though. Clubs like the Texas Rangers, whose Mike Napoli is headed for free agency, are looking at the once top prospect in Toronto as a possible trade target. The Cardinals farm system is good enough to acquire virtually any player they wanted at this point. The question is -- the question always is -- how much is Arencibia going to cost in a trade this year especially if a psuedo-bidding war breaks out. Does Arencibia, and his still lingering potential, warrant displacing Tony Cruz at the cost of a handful of prospects? I don't think the Cardinals pursue that trade but it would be a damn fascinating one if they did.

Alternately, the Cardinals could return to their veteran catcher ways and sign any number of marginal free agents like Gerald Laird, Miguel Olivio or Yorvit Torreabla. Maybe Gary Bennett is looking for work again.

* * *

Do yourself a favor today and go see Skyfall. I'm not a James Bond fan. Never could stand Pierce Brosnan in the role and the older films lack the finish of the 21st Century's glossy action flicks to hold my interest. Daniel Craig is, however, utterly captivating as Bond. Daniel Craig is captivating as anything really.[2] The movie has the feel of a throwback: the opening credits were an amazing avant garde creation coupled with a surprisingly understated performance by Adele, Javier Bardem is a bit flamboyant in a way that harkens to some of the most memorable villains and Dame Judi gives her best performance of the series.

As much as anything else, the film is gorgeous to watch from start to finish in a way that other recent Bond films were lacking. Though I loved Casino Royale, it pales in comparison to the wide camera shots and the perfectly sequenced chase scenes. I know I've seen a quality film when I leave the movie ends and I've not once checked the time.

Skyfall was, easily, the best of the Craig films to date and the best Bond film that I've seen. It takes Bond back to his roots -- thematically the movie focuses on whether a dark, conflicted Bond is needed in today's world -- while modernizing the franchise in a manner that was desperately needed. And for all the talk of the Heineken deal, he still orders his martini shaken, not stirred.

[1] I'm a closet Blue Jays fan. Forgive me.

[2] When the make the 90 minute film Daniel Craig: Sitting and Staring at the Camera, it's even odds on whether I purchase tickets.