The Pittsburgh Pirates have made their first clear rebuilding move of the off-season by signing a catcher that will not contribute to making the club competitive in 2020.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have signed catcher Luke Maile (financial details pending) to a Major League contract as discussed in an earlier article published here on Rum Bunter. His contract is for the 2020 season, but being an arbitration one player he will be under team control through 2022.
Maile has a career .198/.252/.304 slash over 5 years and 657 plate appearances. Maile actually rates above average defensively. But, clearly, this still does not make up for his incredibly poor offensive production.
To put into context just how bad Maile is offensively, lets compare him to two recent backup catchers for the Pirates. Erik Kratz, a career backup catcher, out-slugged Maile to a career line of .205/.252/.354. A second powerhouse, Rod Barajas, batted a career .235/.284/.407/.691. Any Pirates’ fan over the past decade can remember both of these players and know how much both were able to contribute to the team – which was close to nothing. Maile, at least on paper, will perform at a lower level offensively than both Kratz and Barajas.
What the Signing Tells Us:
Maile’s new contract is a Major League contract, which combined with his past performance is actually extremely informative to fans during this ambiguous offseason.
First and foremost, this is an MLB contract, not a minor league contract. Which is a clear indication that the Pirates intend for Maile to be on the Major League roster and to see significant playing time. A team looking to compete in 2020 would not sign a catcher of Maile’s caliber to an MLB contract, however, a team looking to use 2020 as a rebuilding year would. Up to this point Cherington has kept his cards close to his chest about the direction that the club will take in 2020. The signing of Maile is the first concrete indication that the Pirates will rebuild, at the very least in the short run.
This also should signal to fans that Starling Marte is a lock to be traded, and other players, such as Keona Kela and Adam Frazier are near locks to be traded as well. Players like Marte that only have 2 or 3 years left on their contracts become significantly less valuable to a team looking to rebuild. Look for Cherington to execute a few trades before Spring Training and probably an additional few around the trade deadline in July.
Finally, this signing signals that the Pirates will look for a franchise catcher through trade or the draft, not through free agency. The Pirates had an opportunity, no matter how small, to sign a catcher to 3+ years in free agency this year. A Francisco Cervelli or Russell Martin type contract. However, the Pirates are clearly looking to bridge to an internal solution. Look for the Pirates to trade for a player that projects to be franchise catcher over the few weeks, and/or take Patrick Bailey, Drew Romo, or Tyler Soderstrom with their first round pick.
I do want to note that I think this is a good move for the Pirates. Maile had a decently strong 2018 campaign and is an above average defender. Paired with Jacob Stallings, the duo should lead a strong defensive 2020 campaign behind the plate for the Pirates and will have a decent chance for a breaking season. This will help the Pirates evaluate their current starting and relief pitchers, as well as the two young catchers.