Josh Thole expected to begin season in minors

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When the Blue Jays acquired Josh Thole from the Mets in the R.A. Dickey deal last month, the expectation was that he would catch the majority of the knuckleballer’s starts in 2013. However, that won’t be the case if all goes according to plan.

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos indicated to Mike Cormack of Sportsnet.ca yesterday that ideally Thole will begin the season with Triple-A Buffalo while Henry Blanco, who was recently signed to a non-guaranteed, one-year deal, will serve as J.P. Arencibia’s backup.

“Blanco has not been guaranteed the job at all,” Anthopoulos explained. “That’s why he’s on a non-guaranteed contract. But again, if it works out that Blanco’s the backup and Thole ends up being optioned down here, organizationally that means things are going well. Blanco was good enough to be the backup and now we’ve got tremendous depth.”

Blanco caught seven of Dickey’s starts in 2010 when they were teammates with the Mets, so the 41-year-old is a viable alternative as a backup. If Arencibia suffers an injury, Thole would be at the ready to handle the majority of the starts behind the plate.

The Blue Jays and Thole avoided arbitration yesterday by agreeing to a two-year, $2.5 million contract with a club option for 2015. The 26-year-old backstop is coming off a disappointing season in which he batted just .234/.294/.290 and missed nearly a month with a concussion.

Tigers sign Edwin Espinal to minor league deal

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Free agent first baseman Edwin Espinal has signed a minor league deal with the Tigers, the infielder announced Saturday. The move has yet to be confirmed by the team.

Espinal, 23, capped a seven-year run with the Pirates’ minor league affiliates in 2017. He split his season between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, batting a cumulative .294/.327/.447 with 15 home runs and 31 doubles in 532 plate appearances. While he’s raked at nearly every level so far, he also profiles well on defense, and rounded off his 2017 performance with a perfect fielding percentage, 208 putouts and a Gold Glove award.

Espinal is untested at the major league level and it’s not yet clear if he’ll make the jump in 2018. He showed some positional versatility during his time in the minors, however, and could take reps at third base or DH if necessary. The Tigers are reportedly on the lookout for pitching depth and left-handed bats — two bills the right-handed Espinal doesn’t fit — and presumably have a lot of moves left to make this winter.