Over the past few days Pittsburgh General Manager Ben Cherington has inked three experienced Major League players to Minor League deals accompanied by invitations to Spring Training; beginning with relief pitcher Chasen Shreve on Sunday and eventually culminating in the back to back announcements of catcher Tony Wolters and outfielder Brian Goodwin each signing early in the day on Thursday. While I am guessing that none of these acquisitions were seen as ideal by many Pirates Fans, mostly based on the number of comments I read referring to warm bodies, they are the exact types of moves I would expect, and generally welcome, from the organization; especially since they are very similar to the pattern I have been noticing all around Major League Baseball.
Just in the past 24 hours my transaction timeline has started to fill up with players, who would traditionally be signed to Major League contracts, opting for, or being forced to go for, similar agreements as the ones that Shreve, Wolters and Goodwin just decided to take with the Pirates. Ben Gamel to the Cleveland Baseball Team, Jonathan Lucroy to the White Sox, Juan Lagares to the Angels, Renato Nunez to the Tigers, Jed Lowrie to the A’s and many others. Even Jake Marisnick’s 1 year $1.5 million deal, with $500K buyout in the second year, from the Cubs could end up being a fairly similar deal; except no immediate space on the 40 man roster has to be created with a Minor League contract, so I am actually happier with the choices the Pirates have made. In total I have seen at a minimum 10 to 12 players acquired in almost identical fashion to those of the Pirates last three.
Sure it would be nice to have that highly touted, or at the very least a mid tier free agent, come to Pittsburgh on more than just a trial basis, but I think we all know by now that this is somewhat unrealistic; particularly due to the current state of the team as it pertains to being competitive, as well as the fact that it seems like Cherington, Shelton and company are not done with evaluating exactly where some of the guys on the current roster fit into plans for the future, or if they do at all. Which begs the question; why would you bring in someone to fill a void that may not be a void at all, or that may be filled sooner rather than later?
As it currently stands Brian Goodwin could almost automatically slot in as the fourth outfielder, if not the potential starting centerfielder, come opening day, Tony Wolters is an apparent upgrade from Michael Perez, no matter how slight of one he may be and Chasen Streve is a solid relief option with the possibility of becoming a the lefty set up man for whoever the closer might be. Or they could all end up being nothing, which given the investment, really doesn’t matter all that much.
Over the past few seasons Goodwin has served as a reliable outfielder for the Los Angeles Angels before a late season collapse with the Cincinnati Reds in the last 20 games of the season. In 166 games, or just a little over a full season, and 567 plate appearances for the Halos, Goodwin slashed .252/.328/.467 with 21 homers. Defensively he is normally an average to above average fielder, who performs well at each outfield position. In 2019 he registered 5 OAA (Outs Above Average), which would have been the highest on the Pirates roster at the time; above both Bryan Reynolds and Starling Marte who each came in at 2. Currently Jason Martinez from Fangraphs has Goodwin listed as the is the latest non-roster invitee who he is currently projecting to make an Opening Day roster.
Tony Wolters on the other hand has been a little more inconsistent during the 2019 and 2020 seasons; at least in some defensive categories, where he had previously found success. In the last two years Wolters has seen his FRM drop from a near top 10 ranking of 21.3 from 2016 through 2018 to one of the worst in the league at -10 since that time. However, his blocking and arm, have allowed his run prevention to remain in the positive at 6 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved). In comparison, Michael Perez had a total of 3 DRS during that time and was ranked as 57th best catcher in the league, while Wolters came in at 48. With the bat he has struggled to the tune of a .238 batting average with 7 homers in five seasons with the Rockies, which makes me think it will be more of battle to be Stallings’ full time backup than some are projecting.
Last, but not necessarily least, is the first player signed in this short string, Chasen Shreve. The big number that sticks out in looking at Shreve is the 55.1% Whiff Rate on his splitter. Add in a fastball and you have the best two pitch combo for any left handed reliever who pitched more than 25 innings in 2020. Overall, the veteran lefty’s numbers have been fairly steady, aside from a disastrous three outings for the Cardinals in 2019, where his ERA ballooned to 9.00. In seven years and 228.2 innings pitched Shreve has posted a 3.74 ERA and a 1.351 WHIP with 268 strikeouts.
These moves, which are often described as being made purely for depth, and others like it that could, and should, come over the next few days and weeks leading up to the start of the regular season are much needed for a team such as the Pirates, who have experienced their fair share of injuries at nearly every position over the past couple of years. And if they work out, it could lead to Cherington having acquired a few guys that could actually contribute to the team in 2021 with little to no risk involved. Plus I am pretty certain that they move the needle slightly more than the acquisitions of Jarrod Dyson, Guillermo Heredia, JT Riddle and the like from last off-season; or at least they should.