Catching Conundrum: Weighing pros and cons of trading each Blue Jays backstop

analysis

The Toronto Blue Jays off-season has already included one high-stakes decision in the form of the Teoscar Hernandez trade, but perhaps the biggest choice the team will grapple with is how to handle its catcher situation.

While depth is critical over an 162-game season, keeping Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno would represent a failure to adequately allocate the club’s resources.

It’s exceedingly likely that one of those players will be moved, and deciding who goes will play a critical role in shaping the Blue Jays’ roster construction in 2023 and beyond. To say the situation is complicated is an understatement, because you could make an argument for any of the three backstops being the best option for Toronto in the near term — and they all have varying trade values.

Here’s a rundown of the major pros and cons of moving each of the Blue Jays’ starting-calibre catchers.

Danny Jansen

The case for keeping him: The Blue Jays are firmly in win-now mode, and Jansen might just be the best backstop they’ve got.

Since a power breakout that began after a return from the IL on Aug. 31, 2021, the 27-year-old has hit .274/.348/.559, good for a 153 wRC+.

Due to injuries and the rise of Kirk last year those numbers come from a 313 plate appearance sample, but of the 316 hitters with at least 300 trips to the plate during that time Jansen’s wRC+ ranks eighth, directly between Freddie Freeman and Bryce Harper.

On a per-game basis, it’s not a stretch to say he’s been the team’s most effective position player.

If Jansen is anything close to the hitter he’s been lately, moving him would be a mistake. That type of offensive production combined with a defensive pedigree that earned him a 2019 Gold Glove finalist nod is nearly impossible to find.

MLBTR projects him to earn $3.7 million in arbitration this year, which means he’s plenty affordable and there’s a ceiling on how much he can earn in 2024 with that as a baseline.

Because of his recent durability issues — and the fact he only has two more years of team control left — his trade value is also the lowest of the three catchers.

The case for moving him: Although Jansen’s recent offensive production is staggering, it seems fair to assume that he’ll regress to some degree in the next two years. We don’t have many 2023 projections yet, but Steamer pegs him for a 120 wRC+ in 2023, which is excellent — especially for a catcher — but not dominant.

If the Blue Jays could find a trade partner truly buying into his recent production with the bat he’d represent something of a sell-high opportunity.

Jansen has also made repeated trips to the IL over the last two seasons and his career high in plate appearances is 384. He wouldn’t be asked to carry a full load if he stays, but it’s worth wondering if the wear and tear of baseball’s most physically demanding position will continue to be an issue for him.

Moving Jansen would also allow the Blue Jays to turn the position over to the combination of Kirk and Moreno — a tandem with complementary strengths that would put Toronto in “set it and forget it” mode at the position for at least four years.

Alejandro Kirk

The case for keeping him: Kirk probably has the highest floor of any of these catchers. He’s now produced a 124 wRC+ over 755 MLB plate appearances and last season his improved framing, blocking and throwing completely overhauled assumptions about his defensive limitations.

He just turned 24, he’s already started in an All-Star Game and he isn’t even arbitration-eligible yet. Most players who fit that description are seen as foundational players, especially if they play a premium position.

He also fits well with whatever other catcher the Blue Jays decide to keep as his bat is so strong he profiles as an above-average DH. Although last season felt like something of an offensive breakout for him, it doesn’t look like his ceiling.

Kirk’s power fell off in 2022 to below-league-average levels and it seems fair to predict a bounceback based on his previous production.


For that reason, Steamer is projecting a 142 wRC+ from Kirk next year in anticipation of his ISO bouncing back up to .183.

For reference, since 2000 only four catchers have had a wRC+ of 142 or more in a season with at least 500 PA: Joe Mauer, Buster Posey, Mike Piazza and Jorge Posada.

The case for moving him: Kirk has extraordinary trade value for all of the reasons that he’s worth keeping.

Catchers with his recent production and room for growth don’t become available too often, and the haul the Blue Jays could get in return from him would reflect that.

If Toronto is worried that his unorthodox body shape will result in injury issues down the road — or they’re reluctant to tie up the number of DH at-bats he’s likely to command in one player — this is the perfect time to move him while his value is high.

Should the Blue Jays see Moreno as the future at the position, an arrangement where he shares time with Jansen for the next two years while slowly taking over the job might be an appealing blueprint.

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Gabriel Moreno

The case for keeping him: Moreno has repeatedly appeared at the top of various prospect lists, and there’s every reason to believe he can be a franchise catcher.

His athleticism is rare for the position, his defensive tools are elite and his bat-to-ball ability is outstanding. There’s a pretty good chance that he’s ultimately the best of the three, he costs the least, and he’s under team control for the longest.

Although he experienced a somewhat concerning power outage last season, his minor-league track record suggests there’s thump in his bat, even if it’s more gap-to-gap power.

He also has a little bit of positional versatility, which will become more and more appealing if his offence rises to a level where his bat is needed in the lineup as much as humanly possible.

Prospects as good as Moreno come around once a decade, if that, for most franchises.

The case for moving him: With just 73 plate appearances under his belt at the MLB level, Moreno is still a prospect. Even the best prospects can bust.

It’s possible his power never materializes at the highest level and he becomes a good defensive catcher who’s a slap hitter that doesn’t walk enough. That isn’t the most likely outcome, but it’s certainly on the table.

While he has the lowest floor of this group by virtue of his lack of MLB experience, he also might have the most trade value — at least to some teams. There will be clubs who value him above Kirk because they’re wary of Kirk’s long-term durability but in love with Moreno’s all-around skill set.

The opportunity to acquire a prospect of his calibre rarely comes around, and he could be the centrepiece of a deal for a star-level MLB player. If the Blue Jays pulled the trigger on a trade like that, they’d still be able to bring back a duo of catchers that produced 7.3 fWAR last season.

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