Holy! A bevy of moves this afternoon from the Blue Jays, as the club’s ridiculous tyranny of “veteran presence” took a large step in the direction of the guillotine, as did it’s… uh… tyranny of Chad Jenkins, apparently.
Anthony Gose was optioned back down to Buffalo last night, per a tweet from Shi Davidi, with a reciprocal move set to come today. That seemed simple enough, as we learned later, also via Davidi, that Andy LaRoche would be coming up, as an extra hand for the club’s third base spot made vacant by Brett Lawrie’s injury. But when the official release from the club came, there was a bit of extra news, as it was revealed that catcher Josh Thole would also be joining the big club, meaning R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher, Henry Blanco, has been designated for assignment.
And if that’s not newsworthy enough, soon after some bad news for Chad Jenkins– who was thought to be on his way to the Majors in the near future, in order to start for the Jays on Tuesday– filtered out by way of a tweet from Ken Rosenthal. The once-excellent New York Yankee Chien-Ming Wang has opted out of a minor league contract with his old club in order to sign with the Jays, and he will be making Tuesday’s start– his first in the Majors since a somewhat dreadful stint with the Washington Nationals last season and the season before.
That’s right, the Jays’ rotation now has a Johnson, a Dickey, and a Wang. No, you turn six already!
Maybe it’s ridiculous of me– and the front office– to still hold out some kind of hope for Wang, who is now six years and one shoulder surgery removed from being the four-win, 200-inning-ish groundball machine he was with the Yankees back in 2006 and 2007, but I can’t help but wishcast just a little bit. His numbers in Triple-A have improved across the board over last year’s stint in the Nationals system, as he sports just a 4.2% walk rate, 2.5 K/BB, a 3.36 FIP, 2.33 ERA, and a 1.16 WHIP. However, he’s statistically not that far removed from where he was in 2012, and those numbers didn’t exactly translate to the Majors.
Last season he was clearly better in three September appearances (including one start) than he was over 23.2 innings at the beginning of the year, yet he still posted a 4.15 ERA for the month (4.25 FIP, 3.93 xFIP) while opponents hit him to the tune of a .381 wOBA. So… not great. But then again, given what the Jays have got from their starters so far this year, maybe it’s not really so bad. He at least gives the club the chance to catch some lightning in a bottle while adding some depth and making Chad Jenkins– who didn’t pitch well in his between-starts start for Buffalo, giving up six hits and five earned runs to the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs on Wednesday– next in line, rather than Sean Nolin, Marcus Stroman, or Claudio Vargas.
Of course, this kind of veteran-add depth move has been par for the course with the Jays this season. What’s far more interesting about today’s roster activity is the fact that the club has let go of elderly mascot Henry Blanco (who I still think is fucking badass and awesome, he just wasn’t providing anything close to value) and replaced him with someone in Josh Thole who might actually push J.P. Arencibia for plate appearances, especially against right-handers, or at the very least make the Jays’ overrated-in-his-own-mind incumbent think for a minute or three that there’s a legitimate chance he could lose his job– something he didn’t have to do for a second with only Blanco behind him on the roster.
That said, I kind of don’t want to overstate that stuff– I mean, it’s not like Arencibia didn’t realize that Thole was there in the organization, or hadn’t noticed that the club signed him to a two-year deal with an option this winter– but maybe having him actually present in the dugout and clubhouse will make Arencibia’s understanding of the need to get better a little more visceral.
That the notion that Arencibia may be resting on his laurels and in need of a push is even possible is a very bad sign, given what little value he provides, particularly as a hitter, which is supposed to be his calling card, but it’s hard to see this any other way. Sure, the Jays will like spin it to suggest that Blanco somehow wasn’t getting the job done, but has he been that much worse than what could have reasonably been expected? I think not. Or maybe they’ll spin it to suggest that they need to scratch and claw for every bit of value possible to dig themselves out of the hole they’re in, but it’s not like that wasn’t true, if not from the get-go, at least for the majority of the season so far.
The club had indicated that they wanted Thole to play every day, though. They also chose to stash him with the Bisons because they don’t have a whole lot of depth in the high minors, with Mike Nickeas being the only catcher on the roster at Buffalo for the moment, and Sean Ochinko and Jack Murphy at New Hampshire.
Perhaps one of those two will move up, with A.J. Jimenez– who is down a level after playing for the Fisher Cats in 2012, and currently hurting amid his recovery from Tommy John surgery a year ago (though also showing, through six games last month, that he may be too good for the Florida State League)– moving back to Double-A once he’s ready. Even so, it leaves the club thin in terms of depth (assuming Blanco won’t accept an assignment in Buffalo, which is what was generally believed back at Spring Training), and, for me, smacks of something they felt had to be done.
I certainly could be wrong on that, but whatever the case for Thole’s promotion, it’s a welcome move, even if the clamoring for him is maybe a bit rich.
Yes, the numbers at Triple-A are gaudy– in particular, he has a .317/.387/.525 line against right-handed pitching– but they need to be viewed in context a little bit. No, these aren’t numbers inflated by park factors the way they are in Las Vegas, but they are numbers off pitching rotations comparable to the Bisons’, which has been comprised this year of guys like Ramon Ortiz, Claudio Vargas, Miguel Batista and Dave Bush.
Speaking even further to the skewed numbers is the fact that Thole’s .893 OPS overall is good for just fourth on the team. So… let’s not pretend he’s some kind of savior, or overlook the fact that over his two mostly-full seasons as a starting catcher (2011 and 2012) he had the most passed balls (34) in all of baseball, while Arencibia– who had the fourth-most– only allowed 21. And, for whatever DRS for catchers is worth, posted only a zero, compared to J.P.’s -2.
The defensive upgrade, should Thole start cutting into Arencibia’s playing time, isn’t necessarily going to be tremendous, though I haven’t watched Thole nearly enough to understand yet what the difference might be.
Even more curious in all this is the fact that J.P. Arencibia has some reverse splits going for him this season. For his career he has a .311 wOBA against left-handers and a .301 wOBA against right. That might suggest a platoon is in order, especially if you believe Thole is less the concussion-effected guy who put up a wOBA of .260 against right-handers in 2012, and more the player who had a .328 wOBA against them heading into last season– and given the way Thole has handled the bat in Buffalo, it’s not the craziest notion. However, in 2013, Arencibia has been dreadful against lefties (.239 wOBA, albeit in just 49 PA) and has outperformed his career norm against against right-handers (.314 wOBA).
I’m hopeful that this move indicates the Jays are more inclined to go for a platoon, and not rely overly heavily on Arencibia’s limited new-found success against right-handers, but the more rational side of me can’t help but believe they’re still of the mind that, “Hey, if he maintains the numbers against right-handers, and brings his numbers against lefties in line with his career norms, that’s really not so bad.”
It’s true. It’s not. And it’s really not fair to continue to heap scorn on Arencibia, who has been the exact same player this year as he was in the previous two, when most people were far more willing to overlook his flaws. It’s just… the notion of Arencibia as a passable starting big league catcher is wearing awful thin. And I really don’t know how badly this lineup really needs another all-or-nothing thumper when they can at least marginally upgrade their defence behind the plate and add a guy who offsets the power drop by actually getting on fucking base sometimes.
I can’t say I really believe the Jays are going to do that, but at least now the option is there. Finally.