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Rule 5 overview: breaking down the infield and catching mix

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MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays Gerry Angus-USA TODAY Sports

After working our way through the more complicated outfield and pitching mix, we finish with the areas that are less interesting from a Rule 5 perspective. Starting with the infield:

Established MLB regulars: Justin Smoak

Established MLB players: Brandon Drury, Aledmys Diaz, Kendrys Morales

MLB wild cards: Devon Travis, Troy Tulowitzki

Unestablished but MLB level/ready: Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Rowdy Tellez

Prospects: Richard Urena

Other/bubble: Yangervis Solarte

Rule 5 eligibles: Kevin Vicuna, nominally

There’s really nothing to discuss about the Rule 5 directly when it comes to the infield, as there aren’t any realistic candidates to add to the 40-man for protection purposes. The aforementioned Vicuna is the most significant/notable of a broad group of 2013-14 middle infielders signed out of Latin America, but few have made it to full season ball much less distinguished themselves.

The breakdown shows just how muddled the infield picture is. There’s basically one regular, and realistically if he’s in Dunedin three months from now, something has probably gone wrong. Beyond that are handful of players who are established big leaguers (over 1,000 PA) but who don’t really project as regulars (2+ WAR), and a couple of wild cards.

The one thing to watch in terms of Rule 5 machinations is Yangervis Solarte. Having declined his option, it’s almost certainly the case he will be non-tendered in a couple weeks. If the Jays need to free up a roster spot, that could be accelerated.

Numerically, over the last four years the Jays have had 9 or 10 infielders on the 40-man after Rule 5 machinations, and between 9 and 11 by Opening Day. So we’re right there in terms of that range, which further suggests limited additions unless it involves others being moved. 2019 will be mostly about working through the options and figuring out who’s a part of the future and who’s not. And of course, there’s the Vlad factor, as he’s a de facto +1 to each of numbers with his imminent arrival despite not formally counting towards either total.

Catcher

The options here are familiar: Russell Martin the established though declining regular; Luke Maile the established backup; Danny Jansen the MLB ready projected regular; and Reese McGuire likewise almost MLB ready as a likely backup profile.

With Jansen appearing ready to step into everyday duty, the most logical course of action to me appears to be to move Martin to one of the many contenders needing at least a platoon catcher. That would necessarily involve eating at least half of the money he’s owed, but it’s essentially deferred salary to begin with. And if Jansen stumbles it’s not like it’s a major issue in a rebuilding/developmental year.

I’ve also seen a lot of discussion seemingly hellbent on moving Maile this winter, which I frankly don’t understand for the most part. If another team wants a defensively solid backup and will give up something interesting, sure, that’s one thing. But the tenor is more along the lines of him being fungible — and yeah, he’s unlikely to hit much. But he’s a rock behind the plate, and we have in the very recent past experienced what it’s like to not have a competent option. It wasn’t pretty, and I’m flummoxed that is so quickly forgotten.

For the last year, the Jays have had the same four catchers on the 40-man (and only those four). It’s a unprecedented degree of stability, but it’s also a high total. The Jays had four catchers for most of 2014, but since Martin was signed four years ago to stabilize the position, the tendency has been to just have three and sometimes only two.

We can basically rule out adding more catchers on a net basis, both in terms of past precedent but also in that devoted one-eighth of your 40-man spots to one position doesn’t make much sense. Frankly, even if one of the existing catchers is moved, it’s not even a slam dunk that a spot should be allocated to another catcher.

And there’s where Max Pentecost comes into play. Is the offensive breakout the last quarter of the season real? Or at least, more representative of his abilities than what came before. The major concern with the injuries has been on the defensive side, and Pentecost had significant offensive pedigree prior to pro ball. His bat wasn’t considered the type of carrying tool that would profile at another position, moreso good for the position with an ability to hit for average and decent pop.

If one believes that the bat will come around, the fact that he’s actually caught for a season (even if only every other day) might be enough to put him on the radar of teams in the Rule 5. I’d still consider it unlikely, since it would be a pretty tough ask for him to stick for at least half a season especially given the developmental time he’s already lost. But if the Jays like him, they want to be more safe than sorry. One thing is for sure: with the deadline just four days away and moves in the interim unlikely, adding Pentecost would be a sure sign the Jays are planning on moving at least one catcher this winter.