The Pittsburgh Pirates optioned Jason Jaramillo to AAA yesterday after the game, and will most likely call Erik Kratz up to the majors as the backup catcher in the second half sometime this week. I’ve been thinking about the move, and can’t help but think that it lines up perfectly for a Ryan Doumit trade.
First, the whole idea of sending Jaramillo to AAA was to get him every day playing time. Jaramillo was hardly playing behind Doumit, and his production might have been suffering, as he was only hitting for a .164/.250/.239 line in 67 at-bats this year. In 2009, Jaramillo hit for a respectable .252/.309/.364 line in 206 at-bats in the majors, which is in line with his production at AAA, in which he’s combined for a .268/.344/.364 line in 862 at-bats between three seasons.
John Russell said that the Pirates view Jaramillo as more than a backup catcher. That could just be manager speak, but maybe it has some merit to it. Just think for a second. You’re the Pirates GM. You’ve got your catcher of the future in the wings in Tony Sanchez, although at this point it’s looking like 2012 is the earliest he will arrive. You’ve got a good hitting catcher in Doumit, although his defense leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets injured. You’ve got two catchers in Jaramillo and Kratz who have good defense, and who have displayed decent hitting at AAA, although nothing that projects close to what Doumit can do. Then again, maybe the defensive upgrade will counter the lack of offense.
If you wait to trade Doumit, you might see his value drop day by day, error by error, and with every lazy backhand-pick attempt at a ball in the dirt on the left side of the plate. He has no value if he gets injured, which seems to happen every year. If you do trade Doumit, you’re going to want to make sure you have a backup, as Sanchez likely won’t be ready until 2012.
If I’m the Pirates GM in this scenario, I’m going to want to do two things. First, I’m going to want Jaramillo as ready as possible, and the best way for that to happen is for him to be playing everyday at AAA, rather than backing up Doumit in the majors. I’m also going to want to see how Kratz handles the jump to the majors, to get an idea as to whether he can handle the load as a backup catcher, and maybe a little more if Jaramillo and Kratz split time. Then, once Jaramillo is in his groove in AAA, and once Kratz is adjusted to the majors, I make the move to trade Doumit.
The move to send Jaramillo down makes no sense otherwise. The Pirates have Doumit signed for the 2011 season. Jaramillo is going to be the backup catcher as long as Doumit is on the roster. Once Doumit is gone, Sanchez will likely take over as the starting catcher, with Jaramillo remaining as the backup catcher. So it doesn’t really matter how much playing time Jaramillo gets in the majors, and there’s no need for him to prove himself as being capable of more than being a backup catcher, unless he’s not really going to be the backup catcher anymore.
The only way Jaramillo is becoming the starter is if Doumit gets injured or traded. You can’t predict an injury, so there’s no way to know the right time to send Jaramillo down to stay fresh. It is a little coincidental to see Jaramillo sent down with a few weeks left before the trade deadline though. So either the Pirates want to get Jaramillo fresh all of a sudden, three weeks before the trade deadline, just in case Doumit goes down with an injury, or they’re getting him ready just in case they decide to deal Doumit away.
I won’t be surprised if by this time next month the Pirates have Jaramillo and Kratz as their major league catchers.