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.