10/20/2003 2:34 PM ET
Jays in enviable position at catcher
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
Kevin Cash (left) platooned with Greg Myers in 2003. (Aaron Harris/AP)
Behind the plate, the Blue Jays were ahead of the curve in 2003. Whether they stay that way next year depends on one man and one decision. Greg Myers, 37, will be a free agent, but he's also coming off a career season. If he comes back to Toronto, he makes the position a discernable strength. If he goes elsewhere, catcher could become a major question mark for the Jays.
It really seems that simple, even though there are several variables involved. Of course, the major one is whether Myers can repeat his 2003 performance, which is questionable at best. Batting directly behind Carlos Delgado for a good portion of the season, the veteran was one of the most productive catchers in the league. Despite the fact that 10 AL backstops had more at-bats, only three finished with more home runs.
Myers, who started his career in Toronto, may want to finish it in the same place. He has indicated that he wants to be a Blue Jay next season, and general manager J.P. Ricciardi said he's optimistic the two sides can reach a deal. If they do, that will give Toronto two solid veterans and two top-notch prospects to fight it out in Spring Training.
Tom Wilson, who platooned with Myers last season, would have to fend off a challenge from Kevin Cash to remain with the team. Cash, the organization's best defensive catcher, could end up blocked from above and below. That's because Guillermo Quiroz had a tremendous year at Double-A New Haven and will likely start at Triple-A Syracuse next season.
It's a crowded situation behind the plate, but one that's likely to remain a strong suit. Wilson has enjoyed two relatively productive seasons for Toronto, but his role may shrink if Myers returns. The Jays are obligated to see if Cash, long thought to be the team's catcher of the future, can hit enough to stay in the big leagues. If he can't, his window will probably close, at least for now. The 25-year-old could still emerge down the line, but Quiroz would probably pass him on the organizational depth chart.
That's why Cash is dedicating himself to hitting this winter, trying to restore his missing power stroke. He looked lost in a late-season callup, struggling to a .142 average in 106 at-bats. Most observers believe that he'll eventually hit well enough to justify his spot in the lineup, which is a common prognosis for catchers.
The thing is, Quiroz may turn out to be significantly better than that. Last season, Quiroz batted .282 with 20 home runs, earning a spot on the Eastern League All-Star Game and also in the Futures Game. That was preceded by an All-Star season in the Florida State League, which works out to an impressive track record.
Of course, considering that Cash was the Florida State League's All-Star catcher the year in 2001, those designations only go so far. That pair may end up as platoon mates for a spell in the big leagues, somewhere beyond 2004. Quiroz, just 21 years old, needs at least a half-season in Triple-A, and probably more than that. That gives Cash a few months to make an impression -- if he can even make the team.
Wilson, who makes his living by hitting left-handed pitchers, isn't just going to let that happen. The veteran batted .299 against southpaws, providing a potent alternative to Myers. He also contributed some backup defense at first base, occasionally spelling Carlos Delgado. It took Wilson a decade to make it to the big leagues, and he probably has at least two or three productive seasons left. Will he spend them in Toronto?
That, unfortunately, is probably out of his control. Wilson is a known quantity, but he's also the X-factor in this catching equation. If Myers re-signs and Cash hits well in Spring Training, Wilson may be on the outside looking in. However, if Myers doesn't return, Wilson becomes the starting catcher and veteran advisor by default.
What's it all mean? The answer is relatively simple: Even before the offseason truly starts, the Blue Jays have a potent mix of present and future options behind the plate. Though several teams struggle to find a catcher for just one season at a time, Toronto has the horses to fill the slot for the foreseeable future.