The Cubs are reportedly close to making of their first “minor league deal/Spring Training invite” signings of the offseason, catcher Jason Jaramillo.
Jaramillo, 29, missed most of 2011 with elbow problems, and is a career .235/.293/.327 hitter over parts of three seasons in Pittsburgh, primarily as a back-up. He was dumped earlier this month to make room for pitcher Erik Bedard. He’s a switch hitter, and is solid defensively. As an all-around adequate, if unspectacular, back-stop, he makes sense on a no-risk, minor league deal.
Offensively, his numbers are better than former Cubs back-up catcher Koyie Hill (as are most pitchers’ numbers), who was finally, mercifully non-tendered by the Cubs a couple weeks ago. So at least there’s that. The bar for the Cubs’ back-up catcher spot has not been set particularly high since the days of Hank White.
Jaramillo will battle legit prospect Welington Castillo, kind-of-not-really-prospect-but-could-be-a-legit-back-up Steve Clevenger (both of whom are already on the 40-man roster), as well as any other camp invites in Spring for the right to back up Geovany Soto in 2012.
That is, of course, assuming Soto is not traded in the coming weeks. Jaramillo is receiving just a minor league deal – and the Cubs may yet pursue veteran free agent options like Jason Varitek – but it remains possible that the plan is to shop Soto with the thought that Castillo could take over behind the plate, with someone like Jaramillo backing him up. Either way, the presence of Jaramillo gives the Cubs a slight uptick in flexibility.
Given Jaramillo’s adequate performance as a back-up catcher in the bigs, this is the kind of Spring Training depth signing you’d like the Cubs to make, regardless of the plan behind the plate. Options – that’s all the Cubs are looking for right now.