The Jays quietly made a rather interesting move on Sunday, signing former Orioles (and Reds, and Padres, and Moneyball-era A’s) catcher Ramon Hernandez to a minor league deal and, according to a tweet from Shi Davidi, assigning him to Buffalo.
Now, I’m not going to take too seriously the thoughts in my head that Hernandez, who was below replacement level in 52 games last year with the Rockies, might actually be better than the current incumbent at the position, but… well… this line from MLB Trade Rumors kind of stuck out to me:
The Dodgers acquired the 37-year-old from the Rockies back in April in exchange for Aaron Harang. The backstop saw only 55 plate appearances for Los Angeles, batting .208/.291/.438.
J.P. Arencibia is batting .219/.247/.427.
No, I don’t think it’s remotely plausible that the Jays would consider replacing their starting catcher mid-season with a 37-year-old from outside the organization. But… Hernandez, who over two seasons put up 4.3 WAR for the Reds in 2010 and 2011, miiiiiiiiight actually be the organization’s best catcher.
If that sounds more like an indictment of Arencibia than it is lauding of this hidden gem discarded by the shitty Dodgers, that’s because it is. But seriously! Since Arencibia has been in the league (2010), in a comparable number of plate appearances (931 for Hernandez, 1186 for JPA), Hernandez has provided double the value by FanGraphs’ WAR and out wOBA’d the player ten years his junior by 25 points (a respectable-for-a-catcher .326 for him, versus a declining-by-the-year .301 mark for young Aaron Cibia).
Granted, looking at a sample that includes 2010, or even 2011, is maybe being a little too kind to a 37-year-old who might not be even the player he was then, let alone the guy who was worth 13 wins between 2003 and 2006. And, if you remove 2010 from the sample, the wOBA advantage drops to just seven points (with equal wRC+). Aaaaand Hernandez has been considerably worse in his 250-odd plate appearances since the start of last season.
So… OK, the notion that he may genuinely be better for this team right now is a bit far fetched. It’s a nice depth move, though. If Arencibia gets hurt, the club now has another right-handed catcher who will be able to offer them about the same amount of production if pressed into duty– which… interestingly… Arencibia is out of tonight’s disasterfuck of a lineup with a sore shoulder after colliding with Shane Victorino during the Red Sox series. It’s also a move that helps the Bisons, who’ve been running a struggling Sean Ochinko out there since Josh Thole was freed. (Ochinko, incidentally, appears to be moving into full-on org. guy mode, with his former job as the starting catcher in New Hampshire now fully in the grasp of prospect A.J. Jimenez and his scorching bat).
That would pretty much be the end of the story, I think, if it weren’t that, concurrently, the club has gone a bit public with their displeasure at Arencibia’s progress– and perhaps, at least for the tin foil hat crowd out there, because of how the catcher continues to be obstinate in the face of criticism.
Shi Davidi delved into it in a piece for Sportsnet.
The 27-year-old firmly believes in his track record as a run-producer and heads to the batter’s box intent on making things happen, with an aggressiveness that can both help and hurt him.
Frustration is building, with manager John Gibbons complaining that the Blue Jays “just didn’t get any production down in the bottom of the lineup,” in Sunday’s 5-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox.
Arencibia went 0-for-3 with a walk, but came up with the bases loaded and none out in the sixth and popped to short.
Of late, Mottola sees an antsy hitter too eager to deliver, trying to make it happen with whatever the pitcher throws up, as opposed to hunting for something to unload on.
The hitting coach is later quoted as explaining, “once he steps between the lines, the mechanics go away because his mentality is go fast, fast, fast. We start with the mental approach, which in time will take care of the mechanics, and then allow him to slow the game down. As soon as he steps into the box and sees the guy at third, it’s 0-0 and all of a sudden auto-swing sometimes shows up. He knows, I know, a lot of the fans know, and it’s just one of those things where his desire gets in the way.”
Nothing in the piece suggests that those are the sorts of things that, y’know, a team that thinks its in the hunt might be more inclined to have develop in the minor leagues, but now they– at least theoretically– might have an option to go to in Hernandez, should they decide that path is necessary at some point. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.
In another piece for Sportsnet, Mike Cormack gets Arencibia’s thoughts on the criticism he takes in the media, which… um… hopefully isn’t a reflection of how he deals with it behind closed doors– and, to be fair, I’ve never heard the suggestion that it might be.
Now entering his third full big-league season, the personable Arencibia was asked how much attention he pays to what’s being said and written about him.
“I pay zero attention because I’ve learned more and more how — no offence — how much you guys don’t know,” he said.
He went on to say he’s never had a hard time blocking out the noise, positive or negative.
“It depends on who you play for,” he explained. “With my faith system, I don’t play for the fans, I play for one being. I go out there and I’ve been blessed with abilities. I try to maximize and play as hard as I can with the gifts that I’ve been given.”
Yeesh. And… uh… maybe there’s a connection to be made between that mentality and the what Mottola calls, in Davidi’s words, “an antsy hitter too eager to deliver, trying to make it happen with whatever the pitcher throws up.”
Supposedly, though, at least for the time being– if it’s to be believed, which it almost certainly isn’t– it sounds like the Jays will continue humping the status quo.
Also, I’m told Blue Jays aren’t actively pursuing trade possibilities at catcher. So it looks like Arencibia-Thole for time being.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 2, 2013
So, for now, it sounds like nothing is changing. But the possibility, however remote, could have moved closer into place this weekend. The combined .290/.353/.437 line (.346 wOBA) Hernandez put up as recently as 2010 and ’11 is at least a little bit to dream on, isn’t it?
Oh, who am I kidding? Probably not.