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Blue Jays are solid behind the dish

Blue Jays are solid behind the dish

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Addressing the catching position won't head the list of the Blue Jays' priorities this offseason. Toronto believes it has a solid option behind the plate in Rod Barajas, and plans on opening the 2009 slate with him as its starter.

The Blue Jays intend to pick up the $2.5 million club option to retain Barajas, who claimed the top spot on the depth chart from veteran catcher Gregg Zaun this past season. Zaun is eligible for free agency, but there is still an outside chance that he could re-sign with Toronto to fill a backup role.

It seems more likely that the Blue Jays will look at some of its younger in-house options for a backup for Barajas, though. If Toronto does look for a second catcher on the open market, it would probably be a short-term solution, considering the club has a few prospects knocking on the door.

"Rod did a good job for us," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said recently. "We're comfortable with Rod. We think we've got some internal guys that might be ready to help from a backup standpoint.

"It might be an area where we look around and see if there is an upgrade there, but we're pretty happy with our catching situation right now."

Barajas, who inked a one-year deal worth $1.2 million with the Blue Jays last winter, finished the 2008 campaign hitting .249 with 11 home runs, 49 RBIs, a .294 on-base percentage and a .410 slugging percentage over 104 games. The 33-year-old grabbed the starter's job after Zaun landed on the disabled list with a right elbow injury in May.

From May 27-June 28, Barajas breathed some life into a struggling Toronto offense by hitting .304 with three homers and 13 RBIs in a 24-game span. During that period, the catcher reached base at a .368 clip and posted a .532 slugging percentage. Zaun returned on June 15, but saw limited action over the remainder of the season.

Zaun only briefly returned to the starter's role in late September, when Barajas was sidelined with a torn left hamstring.

On the year, the 37-year-old Zaun -- a catcher for Toronto for the past five seasons -- hit .237 with six homers, 30 RBIs, a .340 on-base percentage and a .359 slugging in 86 games. The veteran backstop has seen his average, on-base and slugging all decrease in each of the past three seasons.

In September, when the Jays let it be known that they planned on bringing Barajas back for 2009, Zaun didn't completely rule out coming back to Toronto, if the club had interest in keeping him around, too.

"I've got a lot of things to think about," Zaun said at the time. "Obviously, if they don't want me back it's a moot point. But I'll listen to anything they have to say to me. ... I would have to ask myself, 'How competitive are they really going to be? Are these guys going to come back from injuries? Are we going to be a better team next year?'

"If the Jays want to talk to me about coming back here to be a No. 2 or some other role, who knows? Obviously I would be flattered and listen to anything they have to say. I haven't ruled it out."

Should the Jays decide not to negotiate a new contract with Zaun, the free-agent catching crop could include Jason Varitek, Ivan Rodriguez, Johnny Estrada, Henry Blanco, Toby Hall and Mike Redmond, among a handful of others. Toronto may decide to simply stick with what it already has in the fold.

The Jays have one option in 25-year-old Curtis Thigpen, who has seen very limited action behind the plate for Toronto in each of the past two seasons. Once considered a front-runner for an eventual job with the Jays, Thigpen has slid some on the organizational depth chart and will have to contend for the backup role come Spring Training.

"He's going to come in and compete for a job next year," Ricciardi said in September. "He's going to have to come in here and show us that he's the guy that can fight for that job, if we don't bring a veteran guy in or keep a veteran guy.

"His time has come. He's going to have to show us that he's the guy who has to be here."

Beyond Thigpen, the Blue Jays also have talented catching prospects in J.P. Arencibia -- the 21st overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft -- and Brian Jeroloman. Toronto believes Arencibia has the potential to be its regular catcher in the near future, while Jeroloman is arguably the top defensive catcher in the club's system.

Arencibia, 22, is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League with the Phoenix Desert Dogs. In 126 games between Class A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire this past year, he hit .298 with 27 homers and 105 RBIs. The 23-year-old Jeroloman hit .252 with six homers, 36 RBIs and a .374 on-base percentage between stints at Double-A and Triple-A.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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