For the 2013 season, Arencibia put up a slash line of .194/.227/.365 while managing a .171 ISO. While it's very clear that Arencibia can hit for power and for home runs (he hit 21 in 2013), there's a lot left to be desired and that's putting it kindly.
In early November, the Rangers also re-signed Geovany Soto to a one year, $3.05M deal. Because the 2014 season will be his second full year with the Rangers, the likelihood of Soto being the starting catcher is high because of the familiarity he has with the starting rotation. There's also the difference in ability between Soto and Arencibia.
When comparing Soto's and Arencibia's numbers, it's not necessarily looking at the two greatest catchers in all of baseball. What you have here are two catchers who are somewhere around replacement level and are what the Rangers have.
It's not the best, nor is it entirely appealing. But as it is, Soto is worth at least one more win than Arencibia is. When you look at the other numbers, it just becomes clearer why Soto is in more of a position to be the starting catcher.
Throw in the fact that Arencibia had 13 passed balls and allowed 40 wild pitches in 2013 to Soto's one passed ball and 23 wild pitches allowed and it just makes all the more sense that Arencibia would be relegated to a backup role.
There has to be a reason for the Rangers pursing Arencibia -- first in trade talks, and then signing him after being non-tendered by the Blue Jays. Why they were pursuing him might be a mystery at this point, but here are some possibilities:
It's definitely possible that Arencibia's power is why the Rangers targeted him -- with The Ballpark in Arlington being an extreme hitter's park, he could be the guy they go to off the bench when they need a home run, or at least a base hit. But even that wouldn't make much sense because The Ballpark in Arlington's park factor is +125 and Rogers Centre isn't too far behind at +113. He's been playing at a hitter's park for most of his career and if he's unable to hit at Rogers Centre, the chances of him being able to hit at The Ballpark in Arlington are about the same, if not a tiny bit more.
Arencibia will be 28 in January. He's still young enough to be able to improve on his defense or game-calling. That's still too much to bank on, if he's had three full seasons as a MLB starting catcher. For the price they paid for his contract, sending him down to AAA to work on game-calling and/or pitch framing doesn't seem like the first option they'd want to take. He did seem to improve at pitch framing over the 2013 season, but this could be a sample issue.
I can't really begin to rationalize all the reasons the Rangers might have for pursing Arencibia. All the numbers -- and the intangibles, even -- point to this being a bad deal for them, even if Arencibia spends all of 2014 on the bench. The potential upside he has is very low. He's not a productive three true outcomes type of player -- if he were, that would at least make some sense for a signing.
. . .
Jen Mac Ramos is a writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow her on twitter at @_jenmac.