Mission ’13: Jays Interested in Angels’ Catchers

Per mlbtraderumors.com:

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.

Wes Kepstro


6 Responses to “Mission ’13: Jays Interested in Angels’ Catchers”

  1. 1 Idiot Fan October 23, 2013 at 9:00 am

    This is currency for AA. If he can actually replace JPA it will buy him a bit of love from the fans. Not that a team should be run on this but sometimes giving yourself a bit of breathing room from the fans/press is worth it.

    I am hopeful this is another “Merry Christmas Jays Fans” type of offseason. We need it.

    • 2 Wes Kepstro October 23, 2013 at 6:38 pm

      “I am hopeful this is another “Merry Christmas Jays Fans” type of offseason. We need it.” You got that right. That said, I have no idea what to expect. It’s almost axiomatic that any player acquired by Toronto underperforms. It’s darn near a cliche…

  2. 3 GordieDougie October 21, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    “Fifth, is Iannetta really a $5MM catcher? Really?”

    Well, the cost of 1 win on the free agency market is $5m, and Iannetta posted 2.1 wins, giving him $10.5m of value, and $5.5m of surplus value, so yes, Iannetta is indeed a $5mm catcher.

    Ramos would be infinitely better than anyone though. He’s probably the best catcher on the market if he’s available.

    • 4 Wes Kepstro October 23, 2013 at 7:23 am

      The cost of a win, speaking from the perspective of WAR, is even greater than that. Theoretically it makes Iannetta an even greater value. Using this argument, JPA is only being paid to produce about 0.1 WAR. He produced 1.1 fWAR in 2012; there was surplus value in his contract, albeit on a small scale in terms of production. One of the worst offensive seasons in ML history was worth -0.6 fWAR: he dropped by 1.7 fWAR. This made him considerably less of a disappointment than, say, Melky Cabrera (3.5 fWAR drop) or Josh Johnson (3.0 WAR drop). The problem is at least one of perspective: he was supposed to improve but he didn’t. Still, his contract is more valuable to TOR than Iannetta’s.

      The question–posed in a state of near-exasperation–was both rhetorical and relative. Relative to the salary structure, Chris Iannetta does not offer the Jays 10x the value that JP Arencibia does but they’d be paying him as if that was the case.

      Relative to his own career, he’s likely to miss a lot of time in 2014 and the Jays aren’t deep at C (Mike Nickeas?). And some of the time missed in LA was because Scioscia benched him. Nobody’s value is augmented when they’re on the bench for attitude or productivity issues.

      Additionally, the quick reflections made about defense in #3 were meant to address concerns about his value: he’s getting older and his defense is less valuable. His WAR is likely to decline to the point of back-up C status relatively soon, yet his salary will increase. He was valuable in his younger days, but I don’t mind if someone else overpays for his decline.

      It’s not my money; they can spend it as they wish. Spending it well is better than spending it poorly, though. I’d like the Jays to consider a different type of C. A better-at-making-contact, better game-calling, and better-with-the-glove C would be nice. Iannetta is better than JPA at 2 of these things, but the gap is narrowing and he won’t be much better for much longer.

  3. 5 @ALEastbound October 21, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    I would take both Iannetta and Conger as a platoon split to replace JPA. Conger is decent enough against righties (700+ OPS) and Iannetta has always hits lefties pretty well. Both are huge improvements defensively.

    Would I give up anything for them? No.

    If I could get Bourjos, Iannetta and Kendrick would I try? Absolutely.

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