According to multiple sources, including his .403 wOBA and .949 OPS for the Las Vegas 51s, Toronto Blue Jays 23 year-old catching prospect Travis D’Arnaud has conquered Triple A. According to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, he’s “awfully close” to being ready for promotion.
With Kyle Drabek’s disappointing development and the bullet dodging transactions that eventually turned Michael Taylor into Anthony Gose, D’Arnaud’s status as the top catching prospect in baseball (again according to Goldstein) is the only good news to directly come out of the infamous trade that sent Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies and a new team dynamic to the Blue Jays.
The only problem with bringing D’Arnaud up is that there happens to be a young slugging catcher already in place at the Major League level in J.P. Arencibia, or Aaron Cibia if you prefer. The most likely scenario will see D’Arnaud eventually usurp the fan favourite as the starting catcher, offering the Blue Jays a prized trading chip in Arencibia, who could be described as a young, and hopefully more consistently powerful, John Buck.
The problem, which I suppose is a good one to have, is how to break D’Arnaud into the role for which he’s been anointed while also ensuring that Arencibia’s trade value isn’t diminished by decreased playing time. Both Goldstein in the article linked to above, and FOX Sports’ resident Detroit Tigers super fan Jon Paul Morosi on Twitter, suggest that the incumbent catcher can play first base in the absence of anything remotely resembling a contributing offensive force at the position on the team’s roster.
I would counter such suggestions with the following statement: No, he can’t.
Among catchers, Arencibia’s offensive contribution, both realized so far this season and projected for the remainder of the year, suggest that he’s a little bit below the average catcher at the plate. As a first baseman, his numbers simply don’t carry. By ZiPS, he projects to be only slightly better than the recently demoted Adam Lind offensively. And that’s not even beginning to consider the growing pains associated with learning a new position.
As a designated hitter, his updated wOBA projection for the remainder of the year would rank him as the very worst in baseball.
I suppose there’s nothing wrong with this if the team is ready to admit defeat for the season, but if it’s serious about competing for the division crown or a Wild Card playoff position, making Arencibia the full time first baseman is not the answer.
I like the idea of calling D’Arnaud up and easing him into the role of every day catcher, but not at the expense of the current season. So, here’s what I’d do, at least while there’s something still to play for:
Once Vladimir Guerrero is done his Minor League appeasement tour (brought to you by the Toronto Blue Jays), I call him and Lind up. I wait on D’Arnaud until the mathematicians in the front office tell me of an increased likelihood of avoiding Super Two should he never need Minor League seasoning again.
At that point, Arencibia and D’Arnaud split time at catcher, in a 50ish/50ish manner. Guerrero becomes the regular DH against left handed pitching, while Edwin Encarnacion gets called on to face righties as the DH, and southpaws as a first baseman. Lind then becomes the first baseman only against right handed pitching.
Once the dream of making the playoffs is dead, I’d do whatever the front office deems necessary for the betterment of the team’s future, even if that means ensuring plate appearances to both Arencibia and D’Arnaud, but until then, a lineup with the highest likelihood of success must be filled out. And in my opinion that lineup should have nothing to do with J.P. Arencibia at first base or designated hitter.