BALTIMORE - As the Blue Jays wind down what has been, arguably, the most disappointing season in the franchise's 37-year history, general manager Alex Anthopoulos addressed the performance, and the future, of the player who has come to epitomize fans' disappointment.
That player is the catcher J.P. Arencibia.
"Offensively has probably been the one area that I'm surprised by," said Anthopoulos. "One thing you felt confident was J.P. would be a .700 to .720 OPS guy with some upside to do better than that. He's always had the ability, he's got power to the opposite field. He's shown the ability to use all fields and you felt that was probably going to be what the floor was for him. Didn't expect it to go the other way."
It's gone the other way, considerably. Arencibia is on pace for the worst-ever offensive season by a Blue Jay with more than 450 plate appearances. His slash line of .194/.229/.365 entering Wednesday's play represents an OPS of .594, a frighteningly low statistic for a player who prides himself on being a run producer and whose 21 home runs are the most hit by any catcher in baseball this season.
After hitting eight home runs and driving in 16 runs in April, Arencibia has just 13 homers and 38 RBI since. Since the All-Star break, the catcher has just 23 hits, nine for extra bases. In his last 20 games, Arencibia is just 4-61.
Piling on? That's in the eye of the beholder. The numbers don't lie.
"I think he's gotten in a funk," said Anthopoulos. "If you look at the numbers, he's been better than this, obviously, his first two years in the league. There are certain things that you would expect, regardless. The average has always been in the mid to low .200s, definitely not below .200. The power has always been there and he's not a guy that's going to walk much. The OPS, I'm expecting it to be .700 to .720, .730 and now being below .600 or, I haven't looked in a last little bit. It's just out of character."
Arencibia has played through pain in his left knee – attributed to bursitis. He's lauded for his willingness to log considerable playing time at the game's most demanding position.
"There was a time when he almost went on the DL but he didn't," said Anthopoulos. "We all know the one thing about him is he's tough. A very durable guy, I know he had the injury last year but he's durable, he plays through a lot of injuries, a lot of pain. He's never come to us and said that he doesn't … He wants to be in that lineup everyday."
Still, the organization knows it must get more production from the catcher's spot and defensively, while Arencibia has worked hard to get on the same page with Mark Buerhle, it took both men almost two months to become comfortable with each other.
Anthopoulos says it's difficult to assess a catcher's game calling, due to the number of times a pitcher will shake off signs. He says he's generally pleased with Arencibia's pitch framing.
"I think it all comes with the territory," said Anthopoulos of the criticism of Arencibia's defence. "One, when the team isn't playing well and then, offensively, I think the more you struggle offensively, the more people will look at the other parts of your game."
It appears, at the moment, the club will be all in – or all out – with Arencibia. If Arencibia is back with the Blue Jays in 2014, he'll be the starter. Don't expect Anthopoulos to take the platoon route by delving into the market for a veteran catcher who can split the duties.
If he signs someone – or trades for someone – Arencibia's days in Toronto are likely done.
Meantime, A.J. Jimenez, the Jays' top catching prospect who's considered a strong defensive player, likely won't begin next season in the big leagues. He's had only 30 Triple-A at bats and missed most of 2012 and the start of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. Jimenez finished this season with more arm trouble.
"I think I can say this for the entire team: We're going to look to improve anywhere we can," said Anthopoulos. "That's not to single anybody out. It's all about alternatives."
Johnson not healthy
Josh Johnson, on the disabled list since August 7 with what's officially listed as a forearm injury, continues to have good days and bad days.
He continues to experience pain in his forearm and elbow area while playing catch. Johnson has yet to throw off a mound since going on the disabled list.
"We're going to give it as much time as we can and just gather all the information," said Anthopoulos. "I would figure some point in October, we'll obviously have more information at that time and whatever we do decide or whatever information we have once we have all the information and so on, then we'll divulge that."
Johnson underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2007.
Casey Janssen ($4 million;) Adam Lind ($7 million, $2 million buyout;) and Mark DeRosa ($750,000, $250,000 buyout) each have options for the 2014 season.
"Anyone that has an option that has had a good year is a very strong likelihood of that option being exercised," said Anthopoulos.
So, did Adam Lind have a good season?
"Yes," said Anthopoulos. "Obviously, he's given us 22 home runs or whatever it's been. I think the numbers overall, I think he's had a good year. He's hit for more average than he has in the past and had really good at-bats."
How about DeRosa?
"Yes, I think so, too," said Anthopoulos. "I think, Mark, for what we brought him in for, what the role was going to be, I think he's played well. Offensively, he's had a better year than he did last year and he's been everything and more we expected from a clubhouse standpoint."
Bullpen trade chips
The Blue Jays have plenty of power arms in the bullpen and maybe enough that one, or more, could be used as a trade chip in the off-season.
"That'll be part of the dialogue we have with clubs that we do feel like we have some depth in the bullpen," said Anthopoulos. "You always want to be careful that you don't make what we perceive to be a strength, a weakness. Because of that depth, we would be open-minded if a deal presented itself to strengthen another part of the club to move a reliever or two."