Person of Interest: New Blue Jays catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia

MLB insider Ben Nicholson-Smith breaks down the Blue Jays low-risk minor league signing of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, in the organization’s quest to give Russell Martin an adequate back up.

The Toronto Blue Jays added some more power to their lineup by reaching an agreement with Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Saltalamacchia will in all likelihood serve as the team’s backup catcher and provide some relief for Russell Martin. But the addition also means manager John Gibbons has another bat to turn to when he needs one.

Overall, it’s a move with little risk and moderate upside at a low cost. The minor-league deal is worth $1.25 million–if he makes the big club–and includes up to $250,000 in incentives, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

Here’s a closer look at the latest Blue Jays signee:

Name: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Position: Catcher
Throws: Right
Bats: Switch
Age: 31
Height: 6-foot-4 | Weight: 235 pounds
Contract status: Minor-league contract, free agent after 2017 season

His numbers were down in 2016 but he has a respectable track record

Saltalamacchia played in 92 games for the Detroit Tigers this past season, hitting .171/.284/.346 with a career-low .630 OPS. He did manage to draw 41 walks in 292 plate appearances. Overall, Saltalamacchia has slashed .234/.309/.413/.721 in 880 career games to go along with 110 home runs.

He had his best year in 2013 when he was the starting catcher for the World Series-winning Boston Red Sox. He set career highs in games (121), plate appearances (470) and RBI (65) that season.

Blue Jays management is familiar with him

It wouldn’t be surprising if Toronto’s VP of baseball operations Ben Cherington played a large role in signing Saltalamacchia. Cherington was a senior vice president and assistant general manager for the Red Sox when Boston acquired Saltalamacchia in 2010, and was GM when the 2013 Red Sox won it all.

LISTEN: Shi Davidi talks on what Saltalamacchia signing means for Blue Jays

He won’t be winning a Gold Glove any time soon

The free agent market now has a dearth of catchers with staunch defensive acumen, so that’s probably not what the Blue Jays were looking for when they sought out Saltalamacchia.

“That option wasn’t really available to them so I think you have to try to get the guy who’s going to help you create some runs,” Sportsnet baseball columnist Shi Davidi told Sportsnet 590 The Fan Wednesday.

Saltalamacchia’s caught stealing percentage was 24 per cent in 2016, below the MLB average of 28 per cent. In fact, his career caught stealing percentage is just 22 per cent.

He also had -8.8 framing runs above average in 2016, ranking in the bottom tier of catchers at getting strikes for his pitchers. By comparison, Martin was middle of the pack at 2.5, while Dioner Navarro and Josh Thole had –1.5 and –2.1 ratings, respectively, according to StatCorner.

All of that said, Saltalamacchia’s still capable of making a big defensive play when called upon.

Could he be part of Blue Jays first base carousel?

First base might be the most interesting position for the Blue Jays in 2017. The team signed Steve Pearce to a two-year deal in December and still has Justin Smoak. It’s possible Pearce begins the season as the starter, but those two could also form a platoon. Gibbons said earlier this month he’d consider using Jose Bautista at first if the Blue Jays run into injury troubles, and the manager now has Saltalamacchia to lean on if the situation becomes dire.

Saltalamacchia played 64 innings at first base with the Tigers in 2016. He has played a total of 384.1 innings at the position but most of that took place during his rookie campaign in 2007 when he played for Atlanta and Texas.

He’s a Salta-the-earth kinda guy

The Blue Jays ideally hoped to get younger and faster this offseason and while this signing doesn’t really help on that front, Saltalamacchia has a reputation as a strong clubhouse presence. Like many major leaguers, Saltalamacchia has been involved in various charities during his years as a pro.

Saltalamacchia appears to be great with fans and familiar with AL East rivalries. We’re guessing he’ll fit in just fine in Toronto.

He’s also a character guy

Fourteen characters to be exact. His surname, Saltalamacchia, is the longest in the majors and believed to be the longest in MLB history. This excludes hyphenated names (hopefully our Ben Nicholson-Smith doesn’t take offence).

Saltalamacchia one-ups the likes of 13-letter players like Todd Hollandsworth, Kirk Dressendorfer, Bill Knickerbocker, Gene DeMontreville, William VanLandingham, Steve Wojciechowski, Ossee Schreckengost, Lou Schiappacasse, John VanBenschoten, Ken Raffensberger and Tim Spooneybarger.

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