Why the Need for Catching Help?

Injuries to the catching staff this year have left a need for the Pirates.

All season we’ve been hearing the Pittsburgh Pirates linked to catchers in the trade market.  There was the interest in Chris Iannetta of the Colorado Rockies.  There was the rumored Garrett Jones for Jeff Mathis trade with the Los Angeles Angels that they ended up turning down.

It made sense that the Pirates were looking for catching all throughout the season.  At one point their top two catchers went down in the span of a little over a week, while their top backup in AAA also was suffering an injury.  The Pirates cycled through Dusty Brown and Wyatt Toregas, before adding Michael McKenry in a minor league trade, and promoting Eric Fryer after his big year in Altoona, then Indianapolis.

The need for a catcher seems to have lessened in late July/early August.  McKenry and Fryer are both doing very well filling in for Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder.  McKenry’s offense hasn’t been much, but his defense has given him a lot of value.  Fryer hasn’t had many opportunities, but has looked good when he’s received playing time, at least looking like a good backup.  Ryan Doumit is expected to return today, and Jason Jaramillo is healthy in AAA.

It would seem that the Pirates don’t need catching at the moment.  That’s why some of the rumors that have been circulating are strange.  They talked about adding Chris Iannetta at the trade deadline, despite the fact that he struggles throwing out runners, and isn’t exactly a strong offensive catcher, especially when you notice that his numbers are heavily influenced by Coors Field.  The New York Post is reporting that the Pirates were close to a deal with the New York Yankees for Francisco Cervelli, who is a career .265 hitter with a .665 OPS.  He’s also struggled catching runners, with a career 19% caught stealing rate.  The rumored deal would have sent Brad Lincoln to New York, although the two sides couldn’t agree on the values of the two players.

That’s not the only rumor from the deadline.  Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago reports that the Pirates inquired on Geovany Soto, but were told that the Cubs catcher wasn’t available.

Going after catching doesn’t make sense for the Pirates in the short term, but it does make sense in the long run.  They don’t have a strong starting catching option beyond the 2011 season.  Chris Synder and Ryan Doumit both have option years, although the prices are way too high for each player, especially considering how injury prone each option has been.  Snyder’s $6.75 M might be reasonable, although the Pirates could possibly find a cheaper option to put up the same production.  McKenry, Fryer, and Jaramillo are good options, but all three look more like backups.

The thing is, the options that the Pirates were going after don’t really provide them with an upgrade in the long run.  Iannetta looks like a one hit wonder, with his 2008 season clearly standing out above the rest.  Cervelli doesn’t look like an upgrade over Fryer or McKenry.  Soto would be a good option, as he’s in a down year this year, but seems to rotate between good and bad seasons every year.  The only problem is that Soto isn’t available.

Looking at the 2012 free agent market, there’s not much available in terms of starting options.  Snyder and Doumit will most likely be available.  Ramon Hernandez should also be available, but will likely cost a first round draft pick.  From there, you’ve got veterans like Jason Kendall and Ivan Rodriguez, and backup options like Gerald Laird and Kelly Shoppach.  The Pirates run a bit of a risk going with a combo of Fryer and McKenry, but those two players haven’t been that bad this year.  The main question is, how long can they keep this up?  Is McKenry playing over his head?  Can Fryer improve and become a starting option?

The Pirates don’t have a starting catching option locked in for the 2012 season.  Tony Sanchez won’t be ready, and there’s no other option available in the farm system.  Adding a catcher wouldn’t be a bad idea, but if the Pirates are going to take that route, they need to actually upgrade over McKenry and Fryer.  If it comes down to a trade that sends Brad Lincoln out for Francisco Cervelli, who doesn’t look any better than the current options, then the Pirates need to consider holding on to their prospects and just sticking with the in-house options.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Anonymous

    A catcher seems to be a problem that is a little far down on the Bucs lists of problems, any upgrade anywhere is always welcome however. It is too bad they could not have traded Doumit or Snyder this year instead of letting them go for nothing.

    • Anonymous

      So right. Does this also send a message that Lincoln is of little value and/or the future for Sanchez isn’t overly rosey?

  • Anonymous

    Sanchez’s future should be just fine.  He really didn’t get a great start last season with that injury and he’s going through growing pains.  Hopefully the bat gets a little better, but defensively he looks pretty solid.  He’s very smooth behind the plate and looks comfortable back there.  Don’t forget, that’s a tough position for any young player and sometimes takes a couple of years to come around.  The rest normally falls into place with time. 

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