Pittsburgh Pirates: The Backup Catching Situation for 2021

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

The position of catcher was considered a big need for the Pittsburgh Pirates entering the 2020 season.  What about for the 2021 season?

There were not a lot of bright spots for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who finished with the worst record in baseball.  However, one of those bright spots was at the catcher position, more specifically Jacob Stallings.  While catching was viewed as big hole in the organization from top to bottom, Stallings proved that he can be a more than capable starter in this league.  He is one of the best pitch framers in the majors, plays solid defense behind the plate, and has provided more with the bat than many thought he would.

While Stallings was always assumed to be a part of this team’s roster, the question was where the Pittsburgh Pirates would get another catcher who could make a viable backup.  The Bucs made a couple moves to add depth to the spot.  They signed both Andrew Susac and John Ryan Murphy to minor league contracts.  The other move was when they picked up Luke Maile, who was previously with the Blue Jays.  Maile was assumed to be the lead candidate for the backup job, but lost the whole 2020 season with fractured finger.

John Ryan Murphy ended up getting the bulk of the playing time as the backup catcher.  Andrew Susac only appeared in one game for the big league club, but spent most of the time on the team’s Taxi Squad.  Obviously Susac did not interest the Bucs much and they actually released him right after the games were complete.  John Ryan Murphy did play in 25 games, but posted an abysmal .433 OPS.

So who will the teams’s back up be next year?  As we have discussed on here many of times, the Bucs do not really have an intriguing catching prospect.  While there are some in the low level minors, there are none that really represent any sort of improvement over what the team got from the position in 2020.  Unless they make a significant trade to bring in a higher level prospect, they likely will not able to do much through the farm system.

What about this year’s free agent class?  This is interesting, because last year the catching free agent class was pretty deep, but the Bucs decided not to bring in a proven veteran like Jason Castro who played for Shelton the year before.  The prize of this year’s catching class will be JT Realmuto, who will go to a contender and be well out of the Bucs’ price range.  Other notable catchers that will be available are Tyler Flowers, James McCann, Sandy Leon, and Jason Castro (again).

Keep in mind that there were a lot of names available last year too, so there is no guarantee that the team will try to bring in one of them.  This is why Luke Maile is the likely backup catcher for the 2021 season.  He is controlled until the end of 2022, and will make a very modest salary after only earning $900,000 in arbitration this past year.

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Maile is noted for his framing ability and his defense behind the plate.  While his bat has not performed at the big league level, he has hit some at the minors.  At the very least, he represents a big time upgrade behind the plate, and that is all you can really ask for from a backup catcher.