The Pittsburgh Pirates were one of the least active teams yesterday in terms of tendering contracts to players. However, there were two notable moves.
Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the rest of Major League Baseball had determined what players they would tender contracts to on their 40-man roster. This mainly affects players who are arbitration-eligible and are due for significant raises from the previous year. Teams have to determine if the player’s production and projected production is worth the financial amount that the player will receive.
Like many of the financial aspects of baseball, the arbitration system is glaringly outdated. As many as 57 players were reported to be non-tendered, including many notable names like Jonathan Villar, Jesus Aguilar, and CJ Cron among many others. Over the previous two offseasons, teams non-tendered a combined 46 players. While this will make for a more exciting offseason and Winter Meetings, it is not good to see so many players being let go over a few million dollars in arbitration raises.
The Pittsburgh Pirates made two notable roster moves yesterday. The first move made was them reaching an agreement with arbitration-eligible infielder Erik Gonzalez. Gonzalez was projected to make about $800,000 through arbitration, but instead of going through the process the Bucs and Gonzalez agreed on that amount.
Many were hoping to see Gonazlez go as he represents one of the many head-scratching moves the previous regime made. He was called “a young Freddy Galvis” and quickly lost the starting job to breakout rookie Kevin Newman. Still, Gonzalez put together a solid enough September, which saw him bat over .300, to save his roster spot. This does not guarantee that the Pittsburgh Pirates will keep him. His contract is almost at league minimum so he would be relatively inexpensive to cut if need be. There really no risk to the deal.
The other player they let go was 2019 starting catcher Elias Diaz. Diaz broke out in 2018 putting together a solid season on offense and behind the plate. Many expected him to build on that strong season and turn into a fulltime starter in 2019. Instead, Diaz greatly regressed closer to his projections and looked liked one of the worst catchers in baseball on both sides.
Still, Diaz had multiple years of relatively cheap control left. He was projected to get just $1,400,000 which is relatively insignificant when comparing to the overall payroll, even for the Pittsburgh Pirates. All in all, cutting Diaz saves the team about $900,000 to put towards other players, which really is not much at all.
Why did the team cut Diaz? Beyond his poor performance, this suggests that the team is 100 percent going to acquire a catcher this offseason. The team currently has Jacob Stallings as the only catcher with big-league experience. Stallings was the Triple-A catcher last year along with Steve Baron, who by no means is a big-league catcher, but rather just organizational depth. There are no real upside catching prospects that are MLB close either in the system.
The fact the team cut Diaz for such an insignificant amount of money without any other real alternative suggests that Ben Cherington likely has confidence in bringing in a catcher over the coming weeks. This would be an important move for the GM as the catching position has turned into one of the biggest holes, not only at the big league level, but in the entirety of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
Whether Cherington will fill the hole at catcher via the free-agent market or through a trade remains to be seen. The first catcher that comes to mind is Jason Castro, who is a free agent after playing for the Twins in 2019. He rated as one of the better pitch framers in the American League last year and is adequate behind the plate. The veteran catcher hit 13 home runs in 79 games. His 13 home runs all came against right handed pitcher, where he posted a slash line of .254/.354/.49. This could set up a nice platoon between him and Stallings. Castro, a lefty with some power, could be a nice fit at PNC Park.
Obviously there are multiple routes the team could go. Other notable catchers that are available are Robinson Chirinos (free agent from Houston), Martin Maldonado, and Austin Romine. Of course, they could also try to make a deal for a younger, MLB ready catching prospect.