Ben Cherington has made his first Major League free agent signing as general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates
Entering the offseason the Pittsburgh Pirates biggest need at the Major League level was catcher. General manager Ben Cherington has now addressed that need. According to reports, the team has signed catcher Luke Maile.
The 28-year-old Maile has five MLB seasons under his belt. He played for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2015 and 2016, and spent the past three seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. Having spent three seasons in Toronto, he is a player that Cherington is familiar with.
On the surface the Maile signing may look like an underwhelming one. He owns a career .198/.252/.304 slash line and a 48 wRC+ in 216 career MLB games. Maile was also plagued by an unsustainably low batting average on balls in play of .190 last season.
While he has his offensive shortcomings, Maile’s value comes with his defense.
Over the course of his five MLB seasons he owns a 30.1 dWAR. He has been responsible 21 defensive runs saved behind the dish. He is also a plus pitch framer, having posted a 48.7% strike rate in 2019. This is in stark contract to Elias Diaz and Francisco Cervelli, both of whom were dreadful defensively for the Pirates in 2019.
During the 2018 season Maile owned a 2.1 fWAR after slashing .248/.333/.366 with a 95 wRC+ to go with his always strong defense. If Maile can have an offensive season even close to what he had in 2018, the Pirates will find themselves with a very good MLB catcher in Maile.
Maile and Jacob Stallings will give the Pirates one of the best defensive tandems behind the dish in the National League. Stallings is coming a season in which he saved 3 runs as a pitch framer to go with a 50.3% strike rate, which ranked 12th in the National League.
It is a bit of surprise that the Maile signing was a MLB deal and not a minor league deal, however, as was pointed out above, there is value to be had in Maile. Furthermore, the Pirates will likely be going through a bit of a rebuild in 2020. So, riding with a young catching tandem of Maile and Stallings to see if they are two players the team can count on moving forward is something worth experimenting with.
Another noteworthy item with Maile is that he still has a minor league option left. Due to this, the Pirates could always add another catcher still and stash Maile away at the Triple-A level as the organization’s third catcher to start the season.
While Cherington has added Maile, it is safe to say the Pirates are not done at catcher this offseason. Cherington has made it known another top priority this offseason is to add a young catching prospect to the Pirate farm system. All signs continue to point toward that coming via a Starling Marte trade.