Pirates Need a Catcher….Again; The Future Looks Bright, but the Present, Well…

11-21-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

If you close your eyes for a moment and ignore that date in the byline you could easily find yourself transported back to 2019 or maybe 2020. The big difference this time is they aren’t looking for a starter at the position.

In fact the first thing we need to talk about is the reality that this club isn’t going to pay a backup more than they pay Jacob Stallings, he’s projected to make 2.6 Million, and I’m going to be more generous than the Pirates are likely to be and make that figure that came out before he was named the Gold Glove winner 3 Million.

Listen, I could have a lot more fun with this and get your rumor loving minds rocking if I didn’t bother with that stipulation but I’d really rather be realistic, even if it’s not as much fun.

We should also really look at what is being replaced. Perez was a -0.7 WAR player in 2021, He had only 30 hits, 7 of which were homeruns in 210 ABs, good for a .143 Batting Average. Sounds pretty easy to replace right?

Let’s have a look at all the different methods the Pirates could use to source this need and identify some players who might fit the bill.

Internal Options

This shouldn’t be a shock but the Pirates don’t have any ready made backup catching options in their system. They have some very nice prospects but none that are close enough to factor in this April in my mind.

Carter Bins – Acquired from Seattle in the Tyler Anderson deal
He currently resides in AA but I could see him getting a bump to AAA even as early as the beginning of the season, thing is, he just hasn’t been that good here. The bat is one thing, but the defense is what’s scaring me off a bit. He’s not done well controlling the running game and most scouts are underwhelmed by his receiving of the ball. I’m not ready to flush him as a prospect, but I’m not really thrilled to think he’d be the backup all season in Pittsburgh.

Eli Wilson – 2019 16th Round Pick
Eli started 2021 in Bradenton, then got bumped to Greensboro and even got one game in Indianapolis. His defense has been impressive, and the bat showed real promise with the Marauders and dropped off with the Hoppers. Eli is the catching prospect most people ignore, he’s not flashy, but he has shows a proficiency for handling a staff and has done well controlling the running game. Eli’s issue is he just hasn’t had enough experience at higher levels, keep your eye on him though, he may not be a future star, but should some other catching prospects change positions, he’s a nice option to have.

Rule 5 Draft

Before I get too deep here, a backup catcher should probably be expected to play about 25% of his team’s games, so hiding a catcher you select in this process isn’t exactly easy. Think of how bad Michael Perez was last season, he still played in 70 games. I’d also add, the reason you’d use the Rule 5 to pick up a player is because you understand they’re a prospect and have need for youth at the position while acknowledging you don’t have any coming, I don’t see the Pirates in that situation. If you’re expecting to be blown away by these options, don’t.

Michael Papierski – Houston Astros – 2017 9th Round Pick
Michael is a defensively sound catcher who can handle a pitching staff and with the bat he’s been very average. Last season he hit .246 with a .754 OPS.

I’ll be honest, I went through every team, this is the only one I’d really consider. And I wouldn’t consider it strongly.

Free Agent Market

Again, this is a backup position, don’t expect to be excited, and yes, I see a familiar face or two in the mix. The Pirates could even resign Michael Perez to a Minor League deal with no guarantee of anything beyond a shot in camp. This is really where that caveat of not paying more than Stallings is going to get plays in. That rules out your Robinson Chirinos’ of the world and the like.

Luke Maile – 1.5 Million or Less
Luke last played for Milwaukee and they had Manny Pina and Omar Narvaez so suffice to say he didn’t play much, 15 games to be specific, but he did hit .300 in his 30 at bats. He makes this list because they liked him before, was injured and they moved on.

Steven Vogt – 3.5 Million or Less
This one might be dicey. He made 3 Million this year but he also hit .195 and defensively he’s not exactly a stalwart. Could be a good MiLB with an invite candidate.

Roberto Perez – 1-1.5 Million
Roberto has been bought out by the Cleveland Guardians and I’ll be blunt, his stat line looks a ton like Michael Perez. To be blunt, you might want the devil you know here.

The Trade Market

Let’s be blunt, the Pirates have too many Middle Infielders, I mean too many to even realistically give them all good looks. I could see them swinging something to see if they can’t sway another team to give up their underused backup as part of the return. This is a scene I can’t digest yet. Too many variables still hang out there such as the tender deadline, and how the overall scene starts to take shape.

Let’s bookmark this method and revisit it later.

OK, so I told you not to get excited, but this is a quick view of what I see right now, and while I love how many times a day I get the comment “backup catchers are a dime a dozen, they’ll have no issue getting one” honestly, I’d love to see what some of them would say after drilling as deep as I just did on this position. It’s not pretty.

More to come…

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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