The Aaron Cibia era– or is that “error,” said your lame dad– is officially over, as the Blue Jays have announced via a media release tonight that they have not tendered him a contract for the 2014 season. Their other arbitration-eligible players, Brett Cecil, Colby Rasmus, and Esmil Rogers, have all been tenderized. Those decisions, however– save maybe for Rogers, who kept showing up on MLBTR’s list of non-tender candidates (while Arencibia did not)– were foregone conclusions. The story here is the one of JPA, who walks away for nothing after three years holding an unshakable grip on the club’s starting catching position.
It’s probably going to be a bit too easy to revel in this. Way, way, way too easy, in fact. And I’m not going to lie, as reflexive it would be for me push back about fans striking their biggest, frothiest dickhead pose on this one, I’m going to have a hard time wagging my finger in admonition at anyone who does.
I do feel bad for J.P. Arencibia, though, in a way. I’m sure he’ll land on his feet, and will still make more money in the next year or two than I will in my entire lifetime, so not that bad, but this is a big, traumatic (relatively) event in his life. It is also, however, a traumatic event that he seems to have largely brought on himself.
I don’t mean that entirely about performance, of course. Sure, he was miscast as a full-time catcher, and given absolutely no cover by a Jays organization that seemed to become delusional about his repeating at the big league level the giant step forward he took in his second season in Triple-A back in 2010, but plenty of players have been in those sorts of situations and managed to keep some of their utility to a club. Shit, in terms of straight value, both Melky Cabrera and Maicer Izturis– somewhat stunningly– had worse seasons than Arencibia did in 2013. Emilio Bonifacio had a worse season at the plate, too, in terms of wOBA and wRC+.
The fact that those guys were new, and that Arencibia regressed for a second year in a row from a not-good-enough rookie year, may have played a part in his being a more natural lightning rod than they were, but to those of us who were on board for the entire ride it’s obvious that it was something simpler: whether because of language or because of personality, Cabrera, Izturis, and Bonifacio didn’t let the criticism get to them– at least not outwardly– whereas Arencibia proved that an utter, flaming lack of humility and self awareness is a deadly combination for an athlete with access to Twitter, a line to the team president, an inability to filter out the media noise in the midst of an historically bad season, and a transparent desire to be loved.
That last element is another reason why I can honestly say that I do feel at least a little bit bad here, in a way. J.P. postured like he didn’t read the criticism or care about the venom, then he responded to the criticism and deleted his Twitter to tune out the venom. He did care– a lot. More than was good for him.
That doesn’t excuse the defiance when it came to his “run producer” rantings, or the brazenness of actually approaching Paul Beeston in the hope of curbing the criticism, or the stupefying decision to not only announce his decision to attack Gregg Zaun and Dirk Hayhurst on the radio, but to actually sleep on it and still go through with it. But I think that it’s important to remember that– though it may have been driven purely by ego, or by whatever cognitive dissonance he felt when others’ opinions of him didn’t line up with his supremely high sense of self– he did want our adulation, and for us to understand that he had more to give, that he’s a good person, and that the criticism of him was petty and narrow (though on that last point I’m sure most of us would disagree).
On their own those aren’t necessarily detestable things– quite the opposite, in some instances– it just came off so incredibly badly when he tried to make the case.
Then again, maybe it was precisely destined to come off that way because Arencibia was too stubborn, too cocky, or too oblivious not to see that things like his too-frequent invocation of his very commendable charity work landed more on the level of distasteful flaunting than entirely sincere. Maybe, as some theorized, there was a not-unimportant parallel between his media misadventures and his seeming on-field inability to take instruction– or maybe he was getting bad advice.
Or maybe it was even simpler. Maybe, as we also saw on the field, he simply couldn’t save himself from himself– be it changing his two-strike approach, or not getting big-eyed at a curveball about to fall off the table, or getting his back up at the inference that his ability to block balls in the dirt needed work, maybe Arencibia really was simply incapable of understanding how to stop his self-immolation.
Whatever the reasons, that’s what happened in 2013. He made himself a bigger target by failing to understand that by the nature of his job he was already a target, and where some players may have been able to shield themselves from deepening criticisms with their on-field results, Arencibia sunk lower and lower into an all-time atrocity of a season. He sneered at the little people who couldn’t possibly understand what tremendous value he provided, insisted that an actual big leaguer like Dirk Hayhurst wasn’t authority enough to criticize him– bizarrely trying to take credit for Dirk’s career in the process– and, unprovoked, dragged Gregg Zaun’s name through the P.E.D. mud.
Of course, it’s easy to get caught up in the theatrics and the armchair psychology and the venom– and those, I think, are important in how this situation became so hopelessly untenable from the fans side of things– but if we’re being honest, all of that could have been fairly easily forgotten with a strong second half. Shit, they probably could have been forgotten, at least from the Jays’ perspective, if the league’s arbitration process didn’t favour the power and durability that Arencibia brings, which was going to push his salary close to $3-million.
But the process does reward players with those skills. And his season was horrendous. And maybe those two things alone would have been enough to see him non-tendered even if he was the kind of fan favourite that he hoped to be– and, frankly, once was– but I don’t know. I don’t know.
If it was genuinely in part about the other stuff, though, then… uh… good, actually!
I mean, all twisted-logic sympathy aside, if it helped create the conditions that forced him out of town then, in a weird way, I guess fans and media taking shit from this guy was ultimately worth it. Dioner Navarro may not be a replacement worth celebrating, and maybe a lot of Arencibia’s epic communication breakdown really was just genuinely misguided, but holy shit, who the fuck needed another fucking year of this shitshow, amiright? Even better: it turns out the guys who sign the cheques agreed with us all along. Y’know, eventually.
A little Shadenfreude? You bet your fucking ass. Concern that Anthopoulos couldn’t even get a bag of balls back? None. Touch of venom? Yeah, straight of the don’t piss in my mouth and tell me it’s raining variety.