Knuckleball-catching Thole non-tendered by Blue Jays
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays tendered contracts to all of their arbitration-eligible players, with the exception of veteran catcher Josh Thole prior to Wednesday night's deadline.
Toronto had until 11:59 p.m. ET to tender contracts to its nine players who are eligible for arbitration. Any player who did not receive a tender offer was granted free agency instead of continuing through the arbitration process.
The Blue Jays tendered contracts to third baseman Josh Donaldson, outfielders Ben Revere and Michael Saunders, right-handers Jesse Chavez, Drew Hutchison and Steve Delabar and left-handers Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup. First baseman Justin Smoak avoided arbitration earlier in the night by signing a one-year deal worth $3.9 million.
Thole spent parts of the last three seasons in Toronto as the personal catcher for knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. No. 1 backstop Russell Martin spent some time as Dickey's catcher in 2015, but the grind of catching the difficult pitch clearly took its toll, both mentally and physically, and the club went back to Thole.
MLB Trade Rumors projected that Thole would have earned $1.8 million through salary arbitration. Even though he became a free agent, he could still return to the Blue Jays if the two sides could agree to a contract.
If Thole doesn't return, the Blue Jays may pursue a different backup catcher who can handle Dickey's knuckleball better than Martin and offers more value with the bat than Thole.
Outside of Thole, the most difficult decision the Blue Jays faced prior to Wednesday's deadline was found in the outfield. Toronto is expected to start Kevin Pillar in center and Jose Bautista in right next season, which leaves one starting job up for grabs and two arbitration-eligible players in the mix.
Instead of making an early decision on who the starter would be, Toronto tendered contracts to both Revere and Saunders. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Revere will earn $6.7 million next, year while Saunders has an estimated price tag of $2.9 million. It seems unlikely the Blue Jays would carry both outfielders into next season, but keeping both in the fold for now increases Toronto's options through trade.
The other decisions were pretty straight forward. Donaldson could earn upward of $12 million in arbitration, according to MLB Trade Rumors, but he's not going anywhere after his American League MVP season. The other projected figures include: Chavez ($4.7 million), Cecil ($3.4 million), Hutchison ($2.6 million), Loup ($900,000) and Delabar ($700,000).
Toronto currently has projected salaries of approximately $130 million for 2016, plus an additional total in the range of $5 million for pre-arbitration players. Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro has not publicly disclosed his team's payroll expectations for next season, but it's expected to be similar to the $140 million that was spent in 2015.