Blue Jays GM expects Thole to play in Buffalo

January 18, 2013, 11:25 AM

BUFFALO — Alex Anthpoulos says Josh Thole has established himself as big league player and he will now pay him as such for the next two seasons, maybe three.

But if everything goes according to plan this spring for the Toronto Blue Jays GM, the recently acquired catcher will begin 2013 with triple-A Buffalo and not with the big club.

On Friday, Thole was one of three Blue Jays players to sign new deals and thus avoid salary arbitration, joining utility man Emilio Bonifacio (one-year, $2.6 million) and pitcher J.A. Happ (one-year, $3.7 million).

Thole — who was acquired in December by Toronto from the New York Mets in the R.A. Dickey trade — signed a two-year deal plus a team option on Friday that will pay him $1.25 million in each of 2013 and 2014 and $1.75 million in 2015 with a $250,000 buyout.

The term of Thole’s committment may come as a surprise to some given he isn’t eligble to become a free agent until 2017, but as Anthopoulos explained Friday in Buffalo while attending an annual luncheon for the team’s new triple-A affiliate, the deal provides the injury-prone Thole with some financial security and the Blue Jays with a content and capable major-league calibre backstop ready in triple-A should one of J.P. Arencibia or recently signed 41-year-old Henry Blanco go down with an injury.

And make no mistake, the backup job is Blanco’s to lose this spring even if Anthopulos stopped just short of saying it.

“Blanco has not been guaranteed the job at all,” Anthopoulos explained. “That’s why he’s on a non-guaranteed contract. But again, if it works out that Blanco’s the backup and Thole ends up being optioned down here, organizationally that means things are going well. Blanco was good enough to be the backup and now we’ve got tremendous depth.”

Last week the Blue Jays signed Blanco to a one-year, non-guaranteed, $750,000 Major League contract. The veteran Venezuelan caught R.A. Dickey’s knuckleballer in 2010 while both were with the Mets and he carried with him the reputation of a popular, clubhouse leader.

At the time of the Dickey trade, it was presumed that Thole would catch the majority of Dickey’s starts, but for 2013 at least, the Blue Jays are envisioning an Arencibia-Blanco catching duo, with Thole on standby in Buffalo a short drive away down the QEW.

“(Thole’s) caught R.A. with great success in the past,” said Anthopoulos. “We have R.A. for the next three or four years. [Thole] has been an everyday player.

“Right now he’s competing to be a backup, but the fact that he’s shown enough durability to catch 100 games or more a few years, there’s certainly some value there as well. If something was to happen to J.P., Henry Blanco just cannot play every day.”

Anthpoulos added the catching depth in the Blue Jays organization has recently become “somewhat scarce,” despite his belief that prospect A.J. Jimenez will be “an outstanding player.”

But the 22-year-old Jimenez has just 105 at-bats at double-A under his belt, hence the Blue Jays desire to pull him off the fast track.

“We don’t want him to feel rushed and have to rely on him to be the backup early (in the majors) when he continues to need at-bats,” said Anthopoulos.

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