The Curious Case of J.P. Arencibia

JPA
Reports began to surface late Thursday night from FOX’s Ken Rosenthal (subsequently confirmed the following morning by our own Jamie Kelly) that the Texas Rangers were getting close to reaching a deal with free agent catcher J.P. Arencibia, formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays.  Let’s take a look at a guy who’s really something of a curiosity at this point.
Jonathan Paul Arencibia was born in Miami to Cuban parents on January 5, 1986.  He went to the same high school as Alex Rodriguez (though a decade later), and tied A-Rod’s school record for career home runs.  He then spent three years playing for the University of Tennessee, where he hit .330 over the course of his collegiate career, before being taken by the Blue Jays in the first round of the 2007 MLB Draft with the 21st overall pick.  This was the same draft that saw such players selected as David Price (1st overall), Matt Wieters (5th), and Jason Heyward (14th), so Arencibia was in good company.

[NOTE: The Rangers’ picks in the first round of that year’s draft were Blake Beavan (17th) and Michael Main (24th), as well as “sandwich” picks Julio Borbon (35th), Neil Ramirez (44th), and Tommy Hunter (54th).]

Arencibia spent four seasons in the minors at four different levels before finally making his major league debut on August 7, 2010, when he homered in his very first career at-bat before doubling in his second (both off of Tampa Bay’s James Shields), singling in his third, and homering again in his fourth.  It wasn’t until his fifth at-bat that Arencibia finally made an out.  He ended the day with a slash line of .800/.800/2.200 and three RBI in leading his Blue Jays to a 17-11 rout of the Rays.

It would be too snarky to add “…and it’s been all downhill from there,” but the only remnant that seems to remain in Arencibia’s arsenal from his jaw-dropping debut is his home run stroke.  While he’s hit 64 HR in 380 career games, the rest of his offensive numbers are truly abysmal.  His career slash line is now .212/.258/.408, with a career-worst (and beyond wretched) .194/.227/.365 in 2013.

He’s also not a particularly good defensive catcher.  Although his ability to throw out opposing baserunners (26% caught stealing) is right around the league average over his career (27%), Arencibia has allowed 34 passed balls over the past three season, including an American League-leading 13 in 2013.  He also made 11 errors in 2013, more than his previous two seasons combined.

Arencibia has only managed to compile a 2.9 WAR during his three-plus big league seasons, which includes a measly 0.1 in 2013.  So, with such an unreliable bat and such a mediocre mitt, how could any team have legitimate interest in Arencibia at this point in his career – especially one as shrewd as the Rangers?  Well, that shrewdness just might be the reason the Rangers are interested in Arencibia.

Clearly, Arencibia has talent and he’s also still young (27).  While most teams would probably shy away from a guy who’s performed so far below expectations to this point in his career, Jon Daniels and his staff are outstanding at identifying players who have yet to peak, and then bring them in to play the best years of their career in a Ranger uniform.  Jamey Newberg recently made this very point when analyzing the Craig Gentry trade, citing Gentry as one of many such players (along with Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Colby Lewis, Joe Nathan, David Murphy, Marlon Byrd, Darren O’Day, Milton Bradley, and Darren Oliver).

With the Rangers still in need of a catcher to pair with Geovany Soto (either to platoon with him or start in front of him), and the available options dwindling by the day (Brian McCann, A.J. Pierzynski, Dioner Navarro, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia have all been snatched up by other teams), Arencibia might be a good fit.

Most observers who fancy themselves an armchair GM would probably take one look at Arencibia’s numbers and immediately remove him from consideration.  But Jon Daniels and his staff tend to take more things into consideration than just a surface-level analysis of a player’s statistics.

You can bet the reason Arencibia will end up behind the plate in Arlington in 2014, is because J.D. and company have fully assessed all aspects and made the determination that Arencibia is worth the risk.  And as most fans and observers who closely follow this organization already know, the Rangers get such decisions right a hell of a lot more often than they get them wrong.

Bob Bland is a Staff Writer and host of the “Diggin’ In” podcast for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Bob.Bland@ShutDownInning.com or  on Twitter @SDIBob.
Bob Bland

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