First Pitch: There’s No Reason to Bring Back Barajas

Today we started the 2012 recaps of the individual positions, focusing on the 2012 season and a look ahead at future seasons and the prospects in the organization. The first position was a spot that will probably lead to a lot of discussion over the off-season, and that was the catching position. In the writeup, Kristy noted that Michael McKenry could get the starting job next year, and that if Rod Barajas came back, it would probably be as a backup.

My opinion? There’s no reason to bring back Barajas.

A year ago I had Barajas as one of two potential free agents who would be a fit for the Pirates in 2012 (the other was Ramon Hernandez, who also had a poor 2012 season). The situation with the Pirates a year ago was much different. They just completed a season where they used eight catchers. They had two veteran catchers who were both injury prone behind the plate, and both came with over-priced options. Chris Snyder’s option was for $6.75 M, and Ryan Doumit’s option would have amounted to two years and $15.5 M.

The Pirates also didn’t have any younger options to replace those two. Michael McKenry had the most playing time at the position in 2011, but had a .598 OPS. That was worse than Barajas in 2012. The only other major league option, Eric Fryer, had a .614 OPS in very limited playing time. The top catching prospect in the organization, Tony Sanchez, was coming off a horrible year offensively at the Double-A level.

Fast forward a year and a few key things have changed. McKenry put up a .762 OPS this year, which was very respectable. He might not be a number one catcher, but he looks like a strong option to split playing time and get the bulk of the workload. Sanchez had another down year offensively, but his defense continues to improve and he started hitting for power again in Triple-A.

What this means for Barajas is that there’s no need to bring him back. He definitely shouldn’t come back as a starter. But it also wouldn’t make sense to bring him back as a number two catcher. This year he posted a negative 0.2 WAR. Even if he came back at the league minimum, he wouldn’t reach his value. There’s a chance that he could rebound and go back to being a 1.5 WAR catcher, but what is the upside in trying for that? The Pirates would be better off giving Sanchez a chance in the majors. In one hand, you’ve got a young catcher who could benefit from a taste in the majors, and who could improve on his 2013 numbers if he had a surprising season. In the other hand, you’d have Barajas for one year, and if he put up a surprising season, he’d be gone the following year, with no chance to build on those numbers.

This isn’t to say the Pirates shouldn’t seek outside help. They just shouldn’t be looking at a guy like Barajas, who is getting up there in age, and coming off the worst year of his career. That’s not a good combo. The Pirates need to choose their gambles wisely this year. If they’re going to take a gamble on someone at the catcher’s position, it needs to be a gamble on whether McKenry can be a primary catcher, or whether Sanchez can be an effective Major Leaguer. They shouldn’t take a gamble on Barajas having a bounce back year. There’s no long-term upside in that gamble.

Links and Notes

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Season Recap: Catching.

**Gerrit Cole Throws Five Innings in Instructs Today.

**Photos from instructs on the Pirates Prospects Facebook page.

**Pittsburgh Pirates Arizona Fall League Results: 10/9.

**Over at Bucs Dugout, there was a discussion about the free agent catchers. One name brought up was David Ross, who would make a good number two catcher to McKenry. Just like last year, the free agent class is weak at catcher for the Pirates, unless you think they have a realistic chance of signing Mike Napoli.

Tim Williams

Author: 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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  • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

    The fact that there is no reason to bring back Barajas is all the more reason the Pirates will. There was no reason for him to touch the soft grass of PNC Park or any other stadium as the year went on but he got most of the starts anyways.

  • http://twitter.com/wondertaint Will

    Barajas signs w/ the Astros and hits 40 HRs next year… in 90 games. NLDS MVP.

    • bucsws2014

      ALDS

  • http://twitter.com/MichaelVelaTTU Michael Vela

    Apparent rumors are the Pirates are thinking about Russell Martin? He’s too expensive though…

    • Stephen Brooks

      Martin is pegged at $7M for a one-year deal on MLB Trade Rumors. If you’re willing to spend $3.5 for 60 games of Barajas and his negative-WAR mongering, certainly another $3.5 to get 120 games of Martin – who is superior in every way except batting average – is a better investment. His defense alone is worth 1-2 wins, then you factor in the patience and power. Plus he’s the only guy on the board who would be a sure-fire upgrade over the incumbent. And he caught AJ in New York in 2011.
      Also because I don’t buy into the Fort as a starter – his monster June/July could be a new level, or it could be a career hot streak never to be seen again. With another 100 PA we might just be getting the August-September Fort, which is not much to write home about.

  • RandyLinville

    I agree there is no reason to have Barajas on the roster. The sentiment you wrote about a couple of weeks ago (
    http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/09/first-pitch-2013-is-the-make-or-break-year-for-huntington-and-company.html) is that 2013 is make or break for the front office. I’m thinking the long term benefit of having Barajas back might not matter so much to the front office if, in fact, they will be gone if this team doesn’t reach the post-season in 2013.

    If the Bucs go after a free agent, who do you think they should or will target? Or will that be a separate post?

    • john.alcorn

      The FA market is terrible at C, David Ross at 37 or Russell Martin, who won’t be interested in playing here unless we overpay, are about it.
      The trade route might work, Jesus Flores in WAS is still young and talented, but he hasn’t hit since he got hurt in 2010. Arencibia can’t really catch well but he can kind of hit, no thanks. Most available guys are glove first types and we have one of those at AAA.
      Go with Fort and Sanchez.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I haven’t had a chance to look at the free agents. But based on my post from a few weeks ago on the topic, I’m not big on turning to the free agent market for help at this point.

  • TonyPenaforHOF

    No Barajas or Sanchez. Sanchez hasn’t shown he is ready. When he does then promote him.

    • john.alcorn

      Completely disagree. Tony has shown plate discipline at every level and doesn’t k a ton. I’ll take a defense first young C with the chance to be league average (.700 ops for a C) at the plate anytime. He should have seen atbats in Sept.

      • TonyPenaforHOF

        IMHO he hasn’t performed well enough in the minors to merit promotion. If he can do it in September needs to show it more during the year.

        I don’t know the answer off hand but how many minor league at bats does he have? With the injuries he sustained earlier in his career has he had enough at bats to be fully developed?

        • john.alcorn

          There is no right answer to that question. Every player is different and every organization has a different approach. That said he’s 24 and has 1332 plate appearances. the odds of him suddenly changing his profile at his age are slim.

  • BlueBomber72

    I’d put catching as the #1 need going into 2013. If the Pirates think McKenry can keep his .762 OPS over 100-120 games then fine, but I’m not sold. I don’t see anyone on the free agent lists, so maybe a trade? Either way Neal will screw it up.

    • F Lang

      I agree. I don’t know if the fort can cary that .762 into the future…but then again I think he can come close because he has power and will take a walk. I think he is a borderline starter. I also think Tony Sanchez is going to be a similar player to McKenry but with maybe a little more upside if his power continues to develop. Those two as your catcher might be a pretty good platoon…but we still need an insurance vet…I just hope it’s not Barajas.

  • Lee Young

    I think Barajas comes back just to catch Wandy and AJ.

    I don’t like it, but that’s what I think happens.

  • F Lang

    The only reason to bring back a 37 year old catcher that hits .210 is at league minimum as a backup….still, why not get a 30 year old guy that can move around a little and is not a complete base-clogger.

    • F Lang

      AJ is a big boy. He can learn to work with another catcher.

  • Marco Rincones

    No discussion here about how poorly both Pirate catchers did in 2012 of throwing out potential base-stealers????? Perhaps the Bucco hurlers need to be better at holding runners closer to their respective bases, but c’mon. It was like the a friggin’ “Free-Driving Day” on the damn PA Turnpike when a opposing team got anyone with two working legs to first base. If they then wanted to see the view from second base it was a better than 90% proposition that they could. I have never seen such a poor display of cutting down base-stealers at the pro level. Can McHenry improve with his timing and throwing down to second? – perhaps. We know Barajas can’t get better at 37 years of age.

    • john.alcorn

      Fort threw out nearly 20%, not great, but not nearly as terrible as Rod.

  • pirateswillwinin2012

    Joel Hanrahan to Torornto for J.P Arencibia and Kyle Drabek

  • leadoff

    Apparently the Pirates did have discussions with Barajas about the back up role in his season ending interview. No details about that discussion were revealed.
    Catching is a big problem for the Pirates, but not their biggest, pitching is still their biggest problem, however pitching is an easier problem to solve for the Pirates than the catching problem because there are so few options available to them, no free agents, no one really ready from the minor league system ( that could change after the first month of AAA season if Sanchez gets hot), he can catch and he can throw very well right now. Throwing accurately is the biggest problem I see with both of the Pirate catchers.
    At this point in time unless a good trade opportunity comes along I am inclined to bring back Barajas as a backup with the hopes that Sanchez takes that job part way into next season.

  • http://twitter.com/BlaineHuff Blaine Huff

    I’m far from sold on McKenry as the top catcher in a tandem. His power numbers declined with every minor league promotion and I’m inclined to think the 2012 output was a fluke.

    Sanchez is far from ready. Hitting in the mid .230s in AAA is, in no way, a reason to be promoted. He needs to be catching 100+ games in Indy to get his bat together and not 65 in the majors…unless the Pirates have totally given up on him becoming a legitimate starter.

    Unless the Bucs swing a deal, catching is going to be a black hole in 2013. I’m intrigued by Ramon Cabrera, but that’s 2014 at the earliest.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Lease/1032731036 John Lease

    Barajas does get a nice parting gift though as he leaves, right? Another brilliant contract. For some reason disqus isn’t taking my Twitter account, you can all look at my granddaughter from last year instead.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      There’s no buyout for his option. So he wouldn’t get anything if he left.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Lease/1032731036 John Lease

        Thank God for small favors.