According to multiple sources, the Pirates have agreed to a contract extension with catcher Chris Stewart, who was set to become a free agent after the 2016 season. First reported by Robert Murray, Chris Cotillo has details on the signing, noting that it’s pending a physical. It will cover the 2016-17 seasons, plus the Pirates hold a team option for 2018. No salary figures have been announced. Stewart filed for arbitration yesterday. He made $1.225 M last year and was scheduled to make approximately $1.6 M this season.
Stewart has spent the last two seasons with the Pirates after they acquired him from the New York Yankees in exchange for minor league pitcher Kyle Haynes. Stewart started 37 games behind Russell Martin in 2014 and 36 games backing up Francisco Cervelli. He was acquired for his strong defense, but Stewart has developed into a better overall player. While he doesn’t provide a lot of offense, he has had his two best seasons at the plate since signing with the Pirates. The 33-year-old (turns 34 next month) has a .675 OPS with the Pirates, after posting a .577 OPS in three years with the Yankees.
Source: #Pirates signing Chris Stewart to a two-year deal. Has a team option for a third year.
— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) January 14, 2016
Source confirms: Pirates agree to extension with Chris Stewart. 2 years + team option extends control by 2 seasons. @RobertMurrayBBE on it.
— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) January 14, 2016
UPDATE 3:30 PM: Analysis from Tim Williams…
Stewart has been a pretty consistent backup catcher, being worth anywhere from 0.5-1.2 fWAR from 2011-2015. He’s consistently just outside of the top 30 catchers in any given year group, and if you assume the top 30 are starters, that makes him one of the best performing backups in the game. He’s also one of the better pitch framers in the game, giving him more value.
Assuming this isn’t a big deal, this move makes a lot of sense. You can never have too much catching, and teams always need catching. If the Pirates get into a situation where they’ve got a replacement for Stewart, they could easily deal him away. Until then, they’ve got an established backup who is productive each year, and who has improved at the plate with their approach for him of putting the ball on the ground and going opposite field.
I don’t think this deal means anything for Francisco Cervelli or Elias Diaz, since this involves the backup catching role, and those two project as starters. It’s still possible that the Pirates could extend Cervelli. If that doesn’t happen, then the most likely scenario has Diaz taking over in 2017. The only thing that might impact the future for Diaz is extending Cervelli.