The Blue Jays have a catcher dilemma

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With Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and top prospect Gabriel Moreno all on pace to have career years, the Toronto Blue Jays's front office has some decisions to make this season. (Getty Images)
With Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and top prospect Gabriel Moreno all on pace to have career years, the Toronto Blue Jays's front office has some decisions to make this season. (Getty Images)

We’ve known this for a while, but it’s worth repeating — the Toronto Blue Jays are spoiled at the catching position.

Danny Jansen was on pace for a career year before his latest injury; Alejandro Kirk could be the American League’s starting backstop in the All-Star game, and now Gabriel Moreno, Toronto’s No. 1 prospect, is contributing at the big-league level.

Eventually, though, the catcher-palooza will turn into a catcher dilemma. Once Jansen returns, things get tricky.

“There are pros and cons,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said recently. “So it's just balancing that; making sure that there's enough playing time if it were Gabby to be that third catcher.”

There will be more questions than answers as the Blue Jays sort out their lineup in a few weeks. With that in mind, let’s look at how Toronto can approach the idea of rostering three catchers.

The case for two catchers

If the Blue Jays trim down to two catchers in a couple weeks, it’ll be Moreno going to Triple-A. It would be unfortunate — Moreno is batting .421 with four RBIs through five games — but it would make sense if Toronto views it as his best option for increased playing time.

The case for two catchers hinges on there not being enough playing time to go around, as Atkins said. If Moreno gets sent down, Kirk can continue splitting reps with Jansen behind the plate. With Moreno on the MLB roster, it’s likely Kirk would be relegated to just one start at catcher per week and then full-time designated hitter duties. That part-time schedule is not ideal for either Kirk’s or Moreno’s defensive development.

Carrying two catchers instead of three also allows the Jays to add a left-handed bat to their bench. Jansen, Moreno, and Kirk all bat right-handed, which would be okay, except for that the Blue Jays are already an incredibly right-handed lineup.

There’s also been plenty of buzz about the possibility of Toronto trading one of its three backstops for some help for the starting rotation, bullpen, or batting order. Could the Jays move Jansen for a deadline bat, like Andrew Benintendi from the Kansas City Royals or Chicago Cubs outfielder Ian Happ? Maybe Moreno goes to the Oakland Athletics in a big fish package for starter Frankie Montas?

It’s exciting to entertain that possibility, though I imagine the likeliest scenario, if the Blue Jays make a trade, is to do so in the offseason.

The case for three catchers

The argument for three catchers rests on the principle that the Blue Jays’ best chance to win a World Series happens with Moreno on the roster for the rest of the year. By producing on offence and defence through his first few games, Moreno has shown he belongs in the majors.

There’s a case to be made that even in a three-catcher scenario, where Moreno is catching only twice a week, the youngster is still getting an adequate defensive workload. The 22-year-old will still be developing plenty by just being around the team; he’ll practice by catching bullpens; he’ll do all the catcher’s prep work; he’ll sit in on pitcher meetings and learn the ropes by emulating Kirk and Jansen.

The Jays could make the most of their luxury of depth at the catcher position.
The Jays could make the most of their luxury of depth at the catcher position.

It’s also interesting that Atkins mentioned his club’s schedule as another factor to consider, especially surrounding Kirk’s defensive workload.

“I think it's not just Alejandro, but the demands of catching certainly adds to wanting to be a little bit more conservative,” Atkins said.

If Atkins is concerned about load-managing Jansen and Kirk, who’ve both had injury problems in their careers, then that dramatically boosts Moreno’s value on the roster. Moreno is the most athletic catcher on the club; he’s young; he’s fresh, and won’t have any quarrels about reduced playing time, as long as he avoids a return trip to Buffalo.

On top of all the defensive stuff, it would be tough to justify demoting a hitter like Moreno to Triple-A. At this point, there’s nothing to be gained from having him face minor-league pitching. Moreno’s passed that test; it’s better for him to challenge himself against the best arms in baseball.

Anything can change, but right now the signs are pointing to keeping Moreno on the roster as the Blue Jays’ third catcher, even once Jansen gets back.

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