What's the catch? Rangers in market for backstop
Club expected to inquire about Arencibia, top prospect d'Arnaud of Blue Jays
ARLINGTON -- The Toronto Blue Jays have claimed catcher Bobby Wilson off waivers from the Angels, a move that could have implications for the Rangers.Acquiring Wilson gives the Blue Jays even more depth at an already strong position. The Rangers are looking hard for catching help and the two teams are expected to engage in trade discussions at some point this offseason. Texas could have interest in J.P. Arencibia, who was the Toronto starter the past two seasons. Arencibia hit .233 with 18 home runs, 56 RBIs, a .275 on-base percentage and a .435 slugging percentage over 102 games.
The 26-year-old has two-plus years of Major League experience and is not yet eligible for arbitration. He missed six weeks in the second half with a broken right hand and only threw out 18.5 percent of attempted basestealers.The Blue Jays have one of the top catching prospects in baseball in Travis d'Arnaud, who spent last season at Triple-A Las Vegas. He could be ready to take over as the Blue Jays' No. 1 catcher, but they also have veteran Jeff Mathis in reserve. Toronto has Mathis signed for two more years, and Wilson gives them more depth. Mike Napoli and Geovany Soto ended the season splitting time at catcher for the Rangers. Napoli is a free agent while Soto has one more year of arbitration after making $4.3 million in 2012. The Rangers would have to make a qualifying offer of $13.3 million to get compensation for Napoli if he signed elsewhere. Club officials are ambivalent about whether to make that offer. Napoli, who made $9.4 million in 2012, had his best season for the Rangers in 2011, when he hit .320 with a career-high 30 home runs, 75 RBIs and a .631 slugging percentage. But he dropped off to .227 with 24 home runs, 56 RBIs and a .469 slugging percentage this past season. He also missed a month in the second half with a strained left quad muscle, an injury that bothered him for much of the campaign. Napoli said at the end of the season he would like to return to the Rangers. Soto was acquired from the Cubs on July 30 for Minor League pitcher Jake Brigham and earned high marks from manager Ron Washington for his work with the pitching staff. Texas hurlers had a 3.90 ERA with Soto behind the plate. But he hit .196 with five home runs and 25 RBIs in 47 games behind the plate. He also threw out just four of 32 attempted basestealers. The Rangers do not have a catching prospect who is close to being ready for the Major Leagues. Jorge Alfaro, 19, is ranked as the club's fifth-best prospect by MLB.com but spent last season at low Class A Hickory in the South Atlantic League. The Blue Jays are expected to use their catching depth to upgrade some other spots of need. Starting pitching is a primary need, although they are also looking for a second baseman and outfield help. Toronto would likely have interest in Derek Holland, who was 12-7 with a 4.67 ERA in 27 starts and two relief appearances in 2012. But the Rangers signed Holland to a five-year contract extension in Spring Training and would be unlikely to trade him straight up for Arencibia. The Rangers also have Alexi Ogando, who won 14 games as a starter in 2011 before moving back to the bullpen. The Rangers' top Minor League prospect is second baseman Jurickson Profar. There might be a possibility the Rangers and the Blue Jays could discuss a straight swap of their top Minor League prospects, with D'Arnaud coming to Texas. One baseball official compared D'Arnaud to Giants catcher Buster Posey. The Rangers' other two top prospects are pitcher Martin Perez and infielder Mike Olt. Their pitching depth also includes right-handers Tanner Scheppers and Justin Grimm, and left-hander Robbie Ross. Right now Soto is the club's starting catcher, unless it can upgrade this winter. If so, he could be a non-tender candidate unless Texas can sign him to a contract before the non-tender date. Even if the Rangers re-sign Soto, they will be looking to add at least one more veteran catcher this offseason if Napoli does not return. The top free-agent catchers on the market are Napoli, A.J. Pierzynski and Russell Martin. Former Ranger Gerald Laird, who shares duties with Alex Avila for the World Series-bound Tigers, is also a free agent. The Rangers will also look at potential candidates who could be brought in as depth on a Minor League contract. One possibility is Rob Johnson, who caught 17 games for the Mets this past season before going on the disabled list with a torn left thumb. He is a former catcher for the Mariners who has an excellent reputation for working with a pitching staff. Some clubs have already begun trade discussions, while the Marlins, D-backs and Athletics already pulled off a three-way deal involving reliever Heath Bell last week. But most serious discussions usually start at the General Manager Meetings in November.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.