Blue Jays face tough choice behind the plate

November 12th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson’s Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The biggest decision facing the Blue Jays this offseason is what they do with their talented trio of young catchers. 

It’s a rare and fascinating problem to have, with three starting-calibre options stockpiled at a position that’s thin across baseball. Teams in need of catching have been calling the Blue Jays all year, and Ross Atkins’ cell phone is only getting hotter between this week’s GM Meetings in Las Vegas and December’s Winter Meetings in San Diego. 

As the Blue Jays look to make the jump to World Series contender, trading a catcher is their best bet at significantly upgrading the club without necessarily spending big money. This won’t be a matter of options -- they’ll have plenty -- but instead of motivation and finding the right fit.

“Our catching has been interesting to other teams for years,” Atkins said. “It’s another good position to be in, having a decent understanding of where the levels of interest are, specifically who they are on and understanding if that is best for us, to push forward in that area. It’s fun for us to think about all three of them on our team. Whether that’s for all 162 games and the playoffs, we’ll see, but it’s a really good starting point.”

Translation? The Blue Jays know the market. They’re in control here. 

We’re talking about three very different catchers, though, which is an important starting point.

 (27): 15 HR, .855 OPS in 72 games
Control: Two years remaining
Main attraction: Jansen’s power surge is real, a result of a change in approach that has allowed him to lean into his identity as a pull hitter. Jansen is the most sensible trade option, but he is also highly valued within the organization for his experience and ability to manage pitchers. He can step in as a full-time starter for a contender right away.

 (24): 14 HR, .285 average, .786 OPS in 139 games
Control: Four years remaining
Main attraction: Kirk is a rare offensive talent at catcher and just added an AL Silver Slugger Award to his All-Star season. How he’ll hold up physically into his late 20s and early 30s is a major factor here, but he has made strides defensively and his bat fits in any lineup. Kirk fits best as a 1A with a 1B alongside him.

 (22): .319 average, .733 OPS in 25 MLB games
Control: Six years remaining
Main attraction: Moreno was one of baseball’s top prospects entering 2022 and showed flashes of why in his MLB debut, controlling the run game and contributing at the plate. Moreno has the upside of a perennial All-Star, and while his power dipped last season following a delayed start to his year, he’s still dripping with potential and could even have some positional versatility at third base or left field.

There are clearly tiers here. Jansen fits as an immediate plug-and-play piece for a contending team over the next two years. Moreno would be the centerpiece of a big swing and Kirk would be valued toward that end of the spectrum as well. Jansen is the likeliest of the group to be moved, but not overwhelmingly so. 

Free agency matters, too. The open market offers  and a handful of other starting options, so the Blue Jays may need to wait for that to play out. Frankly, there’s no rush here. 

The boring angle to view this from is that the Blue Jays need to be a better team by next postseason. Ideally, that happens by Opening Day, with Toronto dealing a catcher for starting pitching that solves an immediate problem. It’s not out of the question for the Blue Jays to carry all three into the season, though, and make a move along the way when injuries or urgency elsewhere brings a better market. These are the choices that make this a good problem to have. 

The likely outcome, however, is still that one of these three catchers is moved this offseason, and the Blue Jays need to nail this move.