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Trade further assurance of J.P.'s place in Toronto

Trade further assurance of J.P.'s place in Toronto

Trade further assurance of J.P.'s place in Toronto
TORONTO -- J.P. Arencibia no longer has to worry about who the catcher of the future is in Toronto.

Arencibia received assurance earlier this offseason that not only is he the starter of the present, but one who likely has a solidified spot in the lineup for years to come.

If there was any doubt about that stance, it was erased following Monday's trade for R.A. Dickey, which sent top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud to the Mets. But Arencibia said he received the vote of confidence during a conversation with Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos earlier this month.

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"As a player, it just shows the class of people that you're working with," Arencibia said of his talk with Anthopoulos. "They've been nothing but honest with me. Throughout the whole thing, he was able to calm me as far as just tell me, 'Hey, this is what it is. We believe in you and you're our guy.'

"Not only does that make me feel good, but it makes you want to go out and work harder, go the extra mile and go the extra distance for this organization. If they tell me I need to run through a wall, I'm going to try and run through that wall."

Arencibia's name frequently popped up in trade rumors once the 2012 season came to an end. There was reported interest from Texas, and for awhile, he was falsely identified by some of the media as being included in the recent blockbuster trade with Miami.

The speculation reached a crescendo during the recent Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn. The Blue Jays were in hot pursuit of Dickey, and Arencibia's name continuously surfaced as potentially being on the move.

That prompted Anthopoulos to reach out to his starting catcher and diffuse the situation. Anthopoulos told Arencibia that the rumors were baseless and he wasn't on the verge of being traded to anyone.

Arencibia never mentioned the specifics of their conversation but he did post a message to fans on Twitter saying he wasn't going anywhere. That was met with some skepticism by the media and fans, but what none of them knew at the time was that d'Arnaud already had been made available in negotiations with the Mets.

Anthopoulos and his front-office staff had made their decision. They'd do everything possible to acquire Dickey, and if that meant parting with d'Arnaud, then a ripple effect would secure Arencibia's position.

The decision to inform Arencibia he didn't have anything to worry about was a rare move for Anthopoulos to make. When asked if he had done it before, Anthopoulos could only recall a time when he called Vernon Wells to inform he wasn't going to be traded to the Cubs for Milton Bradley.

"I don't ever normally call players," Anthopoulos said when talking about rumors. "With players, it's part of the game, they realize that. But it became so overwhelming with Vernon, it became so dominant that I felt compelled to call him.

"I did call J.P. at the Winter Meetings, not to assure him that he would never get traded. I told him that I'll never promise or guarantee you that you can't be traded. If it's the right deal for the organization, ultimately that's my responsibility to the ballclub. What I can tell you about what's currently going on, I wouldn't overly concern yourself right now as we sit here today."

Arencibia can put all of that in the past and now has the responsibility of overseeing a starting rotation that has the potential to be one of the best in the game. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero form a deep starting five with differing styles.

The most difficult one for Arencibia to master will be Dickey's. Not surprisingly, Arencibia has never caught a knuckleballer before, and it's not exactly something a backstop can learn to do by watching a lot of film.

That's where the added benefit of practically being neighbors comes into play. Arencibia and Dickey both live in Nashville and have had several conversations since the trade.

The plan is for the work to begin before Spring Training officially opens in February. When Dickey starts his throwing program, Arencibia wants to be a part of it so there won't be as steep of a learning curve.

"Yeah, there's not as much video for him," Arencibia said. "You know he's going to throw the knuckleball, you just have to get used to it. Obviously, if it's hard to hit, it has to be hard to catch, so it's something you really have to get accustomed to. I'm going to get with him and going to work with him as much as possible so I can be ready to catch that."

Arencibia won't be the only one tasked with catching Dickey. Backup Josh Thole also was acquired from the Mets in the recent deal and will be crucial in both sharing the workload and helping Arencibia master the art of a knuckleballer.

It remains to be seen how many opportunities Arencibia will have with Dickey on the mound. But regardless of the timeshare, the bulk of the workload this season will fall to Arencibia.

That's nothing new for a player entering his third year as a starter, but this time, there's no one lurking behind Arencibia in the Minor Leagues. This is his staff, and the potential of the ballclub has the former first-round pick excited about the possibilities.

"My expectation for this team and every team I've ever played on is to win," said Arencibia, who hit .233 with 18 homers last season. "What we have put together is a pretty special team. But no one wins games by just throwing the lineup up on the field. You have to play these games, you're playing against Major League caliber players in arguably the best division in baseball.

"It's exciting, but all it does it make me want to work even more, get down there and work with the team harder and doing things as much as we can, so that when April 2 comes around, we're all firing on all cylinders. It's all about winning and playing as a team."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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