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.

Phillies sign Francisco Liriano and Neil Walker to minor league deals

Francisco Liriano
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Robert Murray and MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported earlier, respectively, that the Phillies signed pitcher Francisco Liriano and infielder Neil Walker to minor league contracts. If he makes the major league roster, Liriano will earn a salary of $1.5 million with an additional $1.25 million available through performance incentives. Walker’s contract information is not yet known.

Liriano, 36, struggled from 2016-18 but enjoyed a productive year out of the bullpen for the Pirates this past season. He posted a 3.47 ERA with 63 strikeouts and 35 walks over 70 innings. The lefty was quite effective against same-handed batters, limiting fellow lefties to a .659 OPS. That would figure to be a key component if Liriano makes the Phillies’ Opening Day roster.

Walker, 34, hit .261/.344/.395 with eight home runs and 38 RBI over 381 plate appearances with the Marlins last year. The veteran is versastile, having played first, second, and third base along with both corner outfield spots in recent seasons. Despite Walker’s versatility, it is tough to see room on the Phillies’ roster for him, barring injuries to other players. It never hurts to have depth.