Phillips to Serve as Backup Catcher

Five-year veteran has roster spot until Zaun is activated

Jason Phillips hit .308 in 20 games with the Jays this spring. (Rusty Kennedy/AP)

By Jordan Bastian / | March 31, 2006 12:25 PM

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- With a little help from the Seattle Mariners, Toronto was able to clear up some of its issues behind the plate.

The Blue Jays attempted to pass Guillermo Quiroz through waivers this week, but the catcher was out of options and Seattle opted to claim him on Friday. With Quiroz off the 40-man roster, Toronto will be able to purchase the contract of Jason Phillips, who will serve as the temporary backup catcher until Gregg Zaun returns from the 15-day disabled list.

Zaun was placed on the DL with a pulled right calf muscle on Friday, retroactive to March 24, which means he'll be eligible to play in the regular season for the first time on April 8. Zaun will remain in Florida while the Blue Jays head home for Opening Day.

Quiroz was noticeably saddened by the news that he would have to leave the club that he had been with since he was 17 years old. He learned he was picked up by the Mariners shortly after Toronto's exhibition game on Friday, and it took him a moment to let it all sink in.

"Right now, I'm just kind of shocked a little bit, but that's the way it goes. It's a business and I understand that," Quiroz said. "I guess I'm just going to go out there and work hard. I thank the Toronto Blue Jays organization. They've been great to me all the time. I grew up with them."

Minutes after hearing he'd be changing uniforms, Quiroz was approached by catcher Bengie Molina, who has spent a lot of time with the 25-year-old catcher this spring. He shook Quiroz's hand and offered a few words of encouragement.

"I went up to him and said, 'You know what? Congratulations. This means you're staying in the big leagues,'" Molina said. "It's a good opportunity for him. I'm sad to see him go. He's such a nice guy. Good things happen to those guys."

Quiroz will have to be placed on Seattle's 25-man roster after being picked up. If the Mariners' decided to send him to the Minors, Quiroz would have to clear waivers again, but that scenario is unlikely.

While Toronto didn't want to see Quiroz go, playing at the Major League level was something he didn't have the chance to do the past few years. He suffered a collapsed lung in 2003, a broken wrist in 2004, and he strained his right shoulder and had a second collapsed lung last season.

Quiroz was lined up to compete with Phillips for the big-league reserve job until Toronto signed Molina in February. Instead of heading back to Triple-A, though, Quiroz will finally get his chance with the Mariners.

"The last couple years, the injuries were costly for him, and they set him back and cost him valuable playing time at that stage of his development," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "It's a good opportunity. He needed a fresh start."

Phillips may be only a temporary fix to the catching hole, but he gives the Jays experience that Quiroz couldn't offer. Phillips is a five-year veteran, while Quiroz has just 29 Major League at-bats to his credit. Another difference between the two was evident this spring. Phillips hit .308 in 20 games, and Quiroz struggled to a .133 average in 17 contests.

"Like we said all along, we're all about winning going forward and we've got to put the best team on the field," Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "I think Phillips allows us to put the best team on the field.

"[Quiroz] is still going through some development. He missed two halves of the last two seasons. I would classify him more as still a prospect, as opposed to a proven Major League guy, which [Phillips] is."

True, Phillips is the more experienced catcher, but he may be able to offer that service to Toronto for only a week or two. When Zaun comes off the DL, Phillips will be the odd man out and, just like Quiroz, he is out of options.

Phillips, who signed a Minor League contract with Toronto this past winter, would have to clear waivers to be sent down. If a team like Seattle is willing to take a risk on a Quiroz, who has a career .205 average, it seems likely that another club may decide to claim Phillips, who hit 10 home runs and had 55 RBIs for Los Angeles last season.

"He'd have to go through waivers, so there's a good chance he'd be up for grabs," Gibbons said. "You never know how the game works out. We may never get to that point."

However, Zaun, who hasn't played in a game since March 16, doesn't anticipate his calf injury keeping him out for very long. He's already able to hit, throw and take part in defensive drills without any problems.

The only leftover issue is running, and that is becoming less of an issue each day. On Friday, Zaun was able to jog on the field, and he'll play a few games in Florida before rejoining the team.

"I'll let [Toronto] concentrate on the guys that are eligible and healthy and ready to play," said Zaun, who hit .500 in six Spring Training games. "[I'll let the other catchers] worry about getting ready to do their job. I'll stay down here and do mine. I feel like I'm real close."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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