John Buck, last season's starter, officially signed with the Florida Marlins on Wednesday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but FOXSports.com reported the deal is for three years and $18 million.
Buck's departure leaves a void behind the plate for the Blue Jays, but could also pave the way for up-and-coming prospect J.P. Arencibia to establish himself in the Major Leagues.
The 30-year-old Buck enjoyed a career season with Toronto in 2010. He reached career highs in batting average (.281), on-base percentage (.314), home runs (20) and RBIs (66) while appearing in 104 games. His signing means the Blue Jays will receive a compensation pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
"There's no question that John is a large loss both in the clubhouse and on the field," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "He gave us a great year and great contributions to a lot of the young starters on the staff. It was a very good contract for him, and the Marlins are getting a great player."
With the news that Buck has decided to sign with Florida, Anthopoulos now must decide who will carry the bulk of the load behind the plate next season.
The most obvious candidate is Arencibia. The 24-year-old spent the majority of last season with Triple-A Las Vegas and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Pacific Coast League after hitting .301 with 32 home runs and 85 RBIs.
Those numbers seem to indicate he doesn't have much left to prove at the Minor League level. For now, though, Anthopoulos is remaining non-committal about what his plans are for the young backstop.
"We do believe J.P. deserves an opportunity to play," Anthopoulos said. "How much [he plays] and the success that he enjoys is up to him and the learning curve. Those are things we can't predetermine."
Arencibia made his presence felt when he received his first taste of the Majors on Aug. 7. He went 4-for-5 with two home runs, a double, three runs scored and three RBIs against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Over the final two months of the season, though, Arencibia managed to appear in just 11 more games. He struggled to regain the offensive stroke he had in his debut and hit just .033 (1-for-30) with one RBI and two walks while striking out 11 times.
For Arencibia, the offensive side of the game is just one component that will be judged when the Blue Jays decide whether he is ready to make the next step. Arencibia's ability to work with the Toronto pitching staff, throw out baserunners and block balls in the dirt ultimately will be the deciding factor on whether he gets a chance for an extended look behind the plate.
At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, there are no questions surrounding Arencibia's athletic abilities. His offensive performance at the Minor League level has caused some to question whether the Blue Jays would be best served moving him to another position to get his bat into the lineup on a more regular basis.
Anthopoulos insists that type of move isn't in the cards.
"J.P. Arencibia for us, there's no question, we view him behind the plate and we don't view him at any other spot," Anthopoulos recently said. "People have talked about his ability to play other positions, because he's that type of athlete and he's that type of kid. But there's no question his value and where we think he has tremendous ceiling and tremendous upside is behind the plate."
With Arencibia's lack of experience, Anthopoulos also hasn't ruled out the possibility of signing another catcher to add to the mix. One possibility could be Miguel Olivo.
The Blue Jays acquired the 32-year-old from the Colorado Rockies on Nov. 4. Toronto immediately declined his $2.5 million option for the 2011 season, opting instead to buy out the remainder of his contract for $500,000.
The move granted Olivo Type B free-agent status, which means the Blue Jays will receive a supplemental Draft pick should he sign with another team. It also bought the club more time to evaluate the market to see if there might be a better fit.
On Wednesday, Anthopoulos said the Blue Jays and Olivo have been engaged in an ongoing dialogue. That extends to other free-agent catchers as well, not just to Olivo, who hit .269 with 14 home runs and 58 RBIs last season.
"I think at that position, you always like to have as much depth as you can, and we want to continue to explore our options," Anthopoulos said. "When you have a chance to upgrade and a chance to solidify and improve yourself, you continue to do it."
If the Blue Jays opt to give Arencibia an opportunity in 2011, they have the luxury of being able to ease him into the role alongside veteran catcher Jose Molina. Toronto picked up the $1.2 million option on Molina's contract for 2011 earlier this offseason.
The 35-year-old Molina has garnered the reputation of being a strong defensive catcher. In 56 games last season, he threw out 44 percent of baserunners and earned the respect of the Blue Jays' pitching staff. It's the type of experience that could help form a platoon situation to start the year.
Also helping Arencibia make the potential jump to the Majors will be Don Wakamatsu. Toronto's new bench coach spent 12 pro seasons behind the plate and is expected to take Arencibia under his wing when Spring Training opens in February.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell expects the two to develop a relationship right from the start.
"In J.P.'s case, our goal is to make him an everyday catcher behind the plate leading a pitching staff, and there's further work to be done," Farrell said recently. "I felt like Don is the right guy for the situation."