What Does the Chris Stewart Deal Mean For Tony Sanchez?

 

Tony Sanchez

Tony Sanchez is still projected as the starting catcher in 2015. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired backup catcher Chris Stewart today, which led to a lot of questions about the future of Tony Sanchez. In my non-tender preview, I gave Michael McKenry a 50% chance of being tendered, saying the Pirates could keep him as a depth option, or go with a better player at a similar cost. They opted to go with the better player, as Stewart has poor offense but some of the best defense in the game. The difference here is that McKenry had an option remaining, while Stewart is out of options. That makes it likely that Stewart will be the backup catcher, leaving Tony Sanchez in Triple-A.

In the long-term, I don’t think this impacts Sanchez’s future with the Pirates. Russell Martin is only under contract through the 2014 season, and if he has another year like he did in 2013, he will get a huge deal with another team. That means Sanchez is still the starting catcher of the future for the Pirates.

What the Stewart addition tells me is that the Pirates would rather have Sanchez playing everyday in Triple-A, rather than playing on the bench in Pittsburgh. There are some benefits to Sanchez getting regular time with Indianapolis. For one, you don’t burn a year of control using him as a backup. He also stays fresh in the event that Martin goes down this year, which would lead to the need for Sanchez to take over as the starter.

The backup catcher job doesn’t provide a lot of value. Stewart has statistically been one of the better backups in the league. From 2011-2013 he had a 2.1 WAR, which ranked 34th out of 63 catchers with 350+ plate appearances during that time. I went with 350+ because that gave 60+ catchers, which is enough for a starter and a backup from every team. All of Stewart’s value comes from his defense, as he has a plus arm and some of the best pitch framing skills in the game.

The one benefit Sanchez could provide over Stewart is his bat. The value of a bat for a backup catcher isn’t that big, since catchers aren’t normally used as pinch hitters and play about 30 games a year. I would have liked to see Sanchez as the backup for another reason — to spend a year in the same clubhouse as Martin. One of the big issues with Sanchez is that he tends to have problems with his throwing accuracy. That popped up this past summer for a week or two. The problem usually stems from a bad throw, followed by Sanchez trying to make up for it with the next throw. This leads to another poor throw, and eventually leads to Sanchez getting in his own head and trying to do too much. My feeling was that Martin could help Sanchez with this problem. However, you could argue that this could also be helped by a coach in Triple-A, or a veteran backup catcher with Indianapolis.

I don’t think that the addition of Stewart impacts Sanchez beyond the 2014 season, since Sanchez is the only player in the upper levels and the majors who could replace Martin as the starter. As for the 2014 season, it’s a debate between what benefits Sanchez and the team more. He could spend time in the majors, getting occasional at-bats and working with Martin. Or he could get everyday time in Triple-A, save his service time, and be ready to take over if Martin gets injured.

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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  • https://www.facebook.com/marty.leap Marty

    I’m really torn on this. I love Stewart’s defense, and like Sanchez being able to play everyday. But would love for Tony to be up here working with Russ.

  • jaygray007

    Catchers take a ton of time to develop. I have no problem with delaying Sanchez’s free agency an extra year.

    Tim, is Sanchez a good pitch framer? I realize there’s probably limited data out there as far as MiLB framing, as the MLB framing is even still in relative infancy, but i’m just curious if you’ve heard one way or the other.

  • http://hiddenvigorish.com Hidden Vigorish

    I don’t like it. I think Martin played too much. He wore down. If they cut him down to say between 100-110 games started that would give Sanchez the opportunity to ease into being a major league player yet still get a decent amount of playing time that he isn’t just wasting a season on the bench.

  • babeadamsforthehall

    So much for going with your best 25 players for 2014. The difference between Stewart and Sanchez defensively cannot be nearly as great as the offensive difference. This move is not especially consequential, but on days when Stewart starts, they will basically have a seven man lineup. If (when) the Pirates sign Barmes and he and Stewart start at the same time, they will have only a six man lineup. Unless Cole is starting that day. Then it would be seven.

    • jaygray007

      Just playing a little devil’s advocate here — but who says the best 25 wouldnt include Chris Stewart? Sanchez batted .233 .288 .400 and was (ever so slightly) under replacement level in his time last year.

      I know he has the talent to be better than that, but I think acting like Sanchez is a proven commodity (and definitely would not be an empty spot in the lineup) is a little silly.

      I think this move is as simple as “2011 was a terrible experience. The yankees are offering a bona fide major league backstop for nearly nothing. let’s get him.”

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

        I think that 2011 plays a huge factor in the Pirates’ thinking for every position. They’re never satisfied with just one backup. Right now the catching depth chart would be:

        Russell Martin
        Chris Stewart
        Tony Sanchez
        Nevin Ashley
        Carlos Paulino

        That seems like it would be enough, but we’ve seen two examples of how depth can go. In 2011 they didn’t have enough catching depth and it was a disaster. Last year they had tons of starting pitching depth, and you barely noticed all of the injuries and poor performances. I’d rather have “too much” depth than normal depth.

        • Hank

          And without the deal, post Sanchez and #2 and McHenry at #3. Would that really be any different? All we are doing is putting a weaker bat at #2, and delaying the developing of a guy we expect to be our #1 catcher in 2015. I think it is better for Sanchez’s development to catch 40 games on the major league level than 120 at AAA.

  • babeadamsforthehall

    Scott Zazmir signs for 2 years $22 mil.

    Hahahahahahahahahahahaha.

    Someone please get AJ on the phone and BEG him to take $14.1 mil for 2014. Holy cow. He could easily get 2 years $32 mil in this market. Way to go buccos! Maybe if they pinch that penny a little harder a first baseman will pop out of it.

    • Jared

      Yes, the Kazmir contract further validates that the Pirates should have tendered AJ a contract. Kazmir is off the market, Phil Hughes is off the market…Haren and Johnson are off the market and, now, Bartolo Colon (who I do NOT want anyways) will be asking for a multi-year $10+M contract. The Pirates tried, but struck out so far with their thinking about finding an equal or better value in the market. AJ Burnett needs to be back on this team next year, and the Pirates are going to have to pay for it. Maybe a trade is in the making for Dempster or something…but unless there is a trade there is a pending problem with the Pirate rotation.

  • Hank

    One game might make the difference next year in making the playoffs or not. If the Pirates feel Sanchez is the better guy to catch 30 – 40 games, he should be up and playing. When you are playing for championships, you put your best roster in the dugout. You should not be worrying about years of control for a guy of Sanchez’s age……play to win now.

    • jaygray007

      Yeah when i mentioned the extra year, that was just me talking. I dont think that’s what the team was actually thinking.

      And maybe they are worse off if Martin is healthy all year. Sanchez COULD very well be better in those 40ish games.

      BUT what if martin tears an ACL? a Stewart-less Pirates is throwing Sanchez out there 70% of the time and Nevin Ashley 30% of the time.

      somebody in Dan Fox’s dept did some kind of risk analysis with injury data and WAR and stuff, and decided that adding a slightly above replacement level legit major leagure insurance policy was worthwhile. losses added by the “Martin Injured” scenario (times some sort of probability) outweighs the losses added by having Stewart up instead of Sanchez (assuming Stewart even puts up less WAR than Sanchez in the first place) (times some sort of probability).

      The 25 Man roster may not be optimized (even though Stewart might even be better in 2014) for a team that doesnt get injured, but this move raises the Win floor a lot more than it lowers the Win ceiling.

      • jaygray007

        not the most well-written thing ever, but hopefully my point was made.

        simply put… even if Sanchez has a higher upside than Stewart, Stewart is probably a lot better than Nevin Ashley.

        And getting him now instead of getting a similar guy AFTER a Martin injury prevents teams from having a firm grip of the Pirates’…. “guts”… when they become desperate for a catcher. Though i guess the team lucked out and got a useful (but flawed) McKenry last time this happened for a low price

        • Hank

          But maybe we have to take the chance to maximum the production from the catcher’s spot in order to win the division…….meaning we only win if Martin plays 120 and Sanchez 40. If Martin gets injured, we are possibly done no matter who is behind him. Plus I would argue that we are much better off in 2015 if Sanchez plays on the big team this year. It is a very interesting equation, that is for sure.

  • CalipariFan506

    IMO this has a lot to do with Sanchez getting time with Taillon, Kingham and possibly Locke as those will be some of the guys he is catching in his 5 years up as the starter starting in 2015.

  • CalipariFan506

    For those of you complaining about the lack of spending, I’d invite you to take a look at the Troy Renck article in the Denver Post explaining a line by line budget of the Colorado Rockies. You’ll see numerous teams are going to be spending money that simply IS NOT there. Like Minnesota and Kansas City for instance. Nutting spends what he can, he does not seem to want to take a loss like some franchises.

    • Jared

      You do not know that. Did you actually read the article? First, the Pirates have the Red Sox at home this year which will increase revenue, not lead to a revenue deficit like in the case of Colorado. Likewise, the Pirates have revenue from the playoffs and sell-outs at the end of the season. Also, we do not know about the Pirates payments for past loans from the MLB central fund. If the Pirates do not have that debt that also would be a substantial 5.5M savings over the Rockies. Finally, you also seem to disregard the part where the Rockies will only spend 50% of the revenues on players, still be above the red, and have a payroll of 90-95M. So basically, what your argument has to be for it to make any sense is that the Pirates should/could have a 90m payroll. Which, if that’s the case, then the Pirates have more than 25M to spend.

      • buster09

        ” The Pirates tried, but struck out so far with their thinking about finding an equal or better value in the market.” So Jared,you are absolutely,positively sure this is the case ? What will you say if Burnett decides to pitch next season and takes $ 3 to 4 million less than the QO from the Pirates ? And don’t be shocked if he decides to do that.

        • Jared

          That could happen, yes…and I would be quite happy if it did. If it doesn’t the Pirates will be in quite substantial trouble…to lose a player of AJ’s value would be very hard on this roster.

          Also, it seems that you did not read the quote of mine that you quoted before you quoted it…I specifically said that “so far” the Pirates have struck out finding an equal or better value for cheaper on the open market. Could you or would you like to try to tell me how that is false? Did they somehow sign Josh Johnson and I missed it?

          If they get AJ back for 14M or 13M or 12M or 10M…that will be great. AJ is an important member of this staff and this team and was 100% worth the QO…do we really have to go around-and-around about this again just to prove this is correct?

      • tom2125

        The pirates prob just broke even or made very little from the playoffs. That has been talked about on here before and you don’t make money on the playoffs until you host a few rounds at home

    • Jared

      Also, remember, Tim’s payroll accounting here on this site includes, I do believe, player salary increases which the Colorado Rockies article says needs to be taken into account. Therefore, the Pirates have even more of that $27M available than the Rockies article because Tim already included the player salary increases. Really, the whole point is this: you cite the Rockies article in favor of a position which you cannot logically hold. The Pirates had less overall attendance than did Colorado, due to the fact that Colorado’s stadium is larger, but the Pirates had a higher % of attendance than Colorado (5% more in 2013 and 4% in 2012) and had the playoff revenue that Colorado did not have. Therefore, it is safe to assume they could have a very very similar payroll…in the $90-95M, which means the Pirates have quite a bit they are able to spend, contrary to your point, in fact.

    • babeadamsforthehall

      Wait. So the Pirates not extending a QO to Burnett is going to lead to the Nuttings playing this year at a loss? I did not know that. Thank you for enlightening me.

      Anyway, the team needs to play their best 25 for as long as they can, and anyone who thinks this schlub will have more value than Tony Sanchez in 2014 is certifiable.

      • buster09

        Thank you babe the genius. Now I can see why the hallisforyou.

        • babeadamsforthehall

          You bet your ass.

        • Jared

          He is right about one thing: the Pirates certainly can afford AJ Burnett

  • CalipariFan506

    The Pirates have significant debt. They have since the 1990s at least.

    Colorado did have higher attendance with higher ticket prices. Thousands and thousands probably in the 100 thousands of Pirates tickets sold are for $1 or $5 to charities and kids. Pirates attendance needs to be 3 million for them to spend there. Just like Colorado or Milwaukee. The notion the Pirates are sitting on $30 million profits is laughable. They opened the books a few years ago and proved it. It ruined Dejan Kovacevic credibility.

    • Jared

      You posted an article and referred to it as to why the Pirates can’t spend more. That fact is simply unsubstantiated. The Pirates certainly can spend what the Rockies spent last year, 84-85M, and likely could spend to what the Rockies plan to spend this season. I believe the Pirates local tv deal is bigger than the Rockies as well. Even at it’s worst the Pirates can afford to spend another 20-23M this offseason, just to get to where the Rockies were last season, and that could get AJ and a 1B.

      • CalipariFan506

        I should never open my mouth. The faction of Pirates fans that think the payroll should be higher than it is will never go away.

        • Jared

          Yes, I do think it should be higher based on increased revenues over last year. Significant increased revenue should lead to increases in payroll. If we could afford last years payroll they can afford another 10M this year based on increased revenues both from the box office and the TV deal. Refusal to believe this is akin to believing that 2-2 does not equal 0.

        • babeadamsforthehall

          Well when the Pirates decide to nickel and dime a pitcher, the quality of whom they need to have in 2014, and then the market blows up in their faces (which many saw coming), then yes…there is justification for thinking that things are amiss. When NH comes out and says that if a player wants a market rate contract that he had better look elsewhere to play…there is justifcation that things are amiss.

          It is still early. The Pirates could well end up spending more on their payroll in 2014 than they did last year (and hopefully spend it wisely). Perhaps AJ is still considering retirement and gave the Pirates his word that he would only come back to the Pirates, and they are taking him at his word. Certainly possible as well.

          But to say that those who are a bit worried about the situation thus far are somehow not justified for thinking that way is a bit of a stretch.

          • tom2125

            Why be worried right now? It’s so early in the offseason and for the needs if the pirates, they have a better shot at filling their needs with quality players through trades, than over pay for veterans that will block our prospects in the next few years. All pirate fans want is for them to send money and that jut doesn’t work. I’m sure the Angels would like to take back signing Albert and Hamilton. Same with the Yankees with their signings of a rod and texaria

            • tom2125

              *Mark Teixeira

            • Jared

              Who said all fans wanted was to spend money? I have said I just want them to keep their good players and spend money wisely…keep talent on the ML team and continue to draft, sign international players, and develop well. Keeping AJ Burnett around is not simply “spending money”…it is 100% spending it wisely!

              • tom2125

                Why complain about Burnett not getting a qo? He was more than likely going to reject since he doesn’t even know if he wants to play. Well besides aj, who do you want? All I have read was their payroll should be 10 to 12 million higher. I could care less what the number is.

                • Jared

                  Just AJ honestly. There really isn’t much else on the FA market that is of interest to me. I would have liked to see them spend the money to sign Abreu, but I do not think we were really ever contenders for him. Looking at the FA market I have said all along that AJ was our best bet. Although, the Fister trade would have been quite interesting and potentially useful as well.

        • Hank

          I wont argue what the payroll should be $ wise, but I will say that if you can’t spend at the level of most of your competition, you need to get out of the game.

          • tom2125

            Tell that to the Rays. Lol. They will laugh you out of their office

        • https://www.facebook.com/scott.skink Scott Skink

          And why should people who think payroll can be higher just go away?

          Payroll can be higher. With the new TV revenues, regardless of what MLB takes for the general fund, combined with increased season tix sales, higher tix prices, more expensive advertising and concessions income, the Pirates will considerably more money to spend in 2014 while also providing Nutting with a comfortable profit.

          Why are you defending a $75 million payroll with the knowledge you’ve already acquired? Take Dejan’s article and the Denver Post info and apply it to the the 2014 Pirates. There’s no other conclusion you can possibly come up with other than the Pirates can easily and comfortably go to an $85-$90 million payroll in 2014.

          And do you honestly believe the Pirates are the only MLB team that heavily discounts tickets to charity? Got news for you – even the Red Sox and Yankees do it.

          • CalipariFan506

            Why am I defending it? Because in the past people have questioned Nutting and when he has laid down the cards, he’s right. I refuse to believe he intentionally keeps payroll down to make gigantic profits. Maybe I’m naive, but his commitment to winning shouldn’t be questioned.

    • http://www.acme-tv.com LongJohnSilver

      And your financial figures came from where? Seems to contradict the following:

      http://deadspin.com/5615094/pittsburgh-pirates-financial-documents/

  • Jared

    The Nationals just traded for Doug Fister. I have no clue what they gave up yet, but his numbers are really good and would have been a great addition to this staff based on the gb% and had a great WAR last year (4.6 WAR I believe).

    • https://www.facebook.com/scott.skink Scott Skink

      Looks to me like the Nats pretty much stole Fister. Lombardazzo, their 2nd best pitching prospect, a AAA reliever.

      • CalipariFan506

        Looks like the Tigers are just dumping salary between him and Fielder in order to extend Scherzer IMO. Or to possibly sign a FA like Ellsbury.

        • Jared

          That does appear to be what they are doing. Which is interesting because as good as Scherzer is he really isn’t worth that much more than what Fister provided and they dumped him for very little, at least far less than what I would have thought it would have taken, just to free up money to sign Joe Nathan (old) and to have more to spend on Scherzer. Why not work out a deal with a team where you can get the closer+a prospect? Fister was worth that at least.