Pittsburgh Pirates Free Agent Target: Catcher Roberto Perez

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 17: Roberto Perez #55 of the Cleveland Indians reacts against the New York Yankees during the second inning at Yankee Stadium on September 17, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 17: Roberto Perez #55 of the Cleveland Indians reacts against the New York Yankees during the second inning at Yankee Stadium on September 17, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates could use a second backstop and former Gold Glove catcher Roberto Perez could be a potential answer on the market.

With the offseason in full gear, at least until December 1st, backup catcher is a position that the Pittsburgh Pirates will likely look to address. This is due to how poor the position has been for the Pirates in recent seasons.

Last season, Michael Pérez took the reins behind Gold Glove winner Jacob Stallings. He may have been average when it came to defending, but he provided negative value with the bat. He had just a 38 wRC+. In 2020, the Pittsburgh Pirates had John Ryan Murphy who was a solid defender but had a 20 wRC+.

Backup catcher is something that’s overlooked too many times. It shouldn’t be the top priority but if the opportunity arises to acquire a quality backup, then the Pittsburgh Pirates should take advantage of it.

The Bucs have a boatload of young pitching coming up through the minor leagues. By the end of next year, all of Roansy Contreras, Bryse Wilson, JT Brubaker, Carmen Mlodzsinski, Miguel Yajure, and Omar Cruz could be in the majors and making regular appearances. With so many young and inexperienced arms, you need to have two guys who know how to handle a pitching staff well. Stallings does that exceedingly well, but what about the 50-60 or so games he doesn’t catch?

That’s why the Pittsburgh Pirates should consider former Gold Glove winner and free agent Roberto Perez. Perez is the definition of a defensive catcher. Since making his debut back in 2014, Perez has had +76 DRS and 43 framing runs. Among backstops with at least 2500 innings behind the dish, Perez leads the league in DRS and is 11th in framing runs. Plus he led the league in caught stealing percentage in 2019 and 2020 and won both American League Gold Gloves.

Perez may be a fantastic defender, but the bat isn’t all that great, to say the least. Throughout his career, he has a very poor .206/.297/.360 line, .288 wOBA, and 76 wRC+. Perez did have a solid 2019 season when he hit .238/.321/.452 with 24 home runs, a .326 wOBA, and 102 wRC+. But those kinds of power numbers were unprecedented for the backstop. 24 home runs were 3 more than he hit in 2014-2018. His .213 ISO was a 79 point increase from his first 5 MLB seasons.

Now sure, it was his first time getting regular plate appearances, but it was also the year the juiced ball peaked. I think it’s safe to say based on what he did in the 5 seasons prior, as well as the two seasons since, that Perez heavily benefited from the juiced ball. The only other season he has had a wRC+ above 100 was in 2015, but that was only in 226 plate appearances while serving second fiddle to Yan Gomes.

The Indians/Guardians declined Perez’s after the conclusion of the 2021 World Series. The team opted to buy him out for $450,000 rather than picking up his $7 million option. He’s suffered some shoulder injuries and a fractured finger, which has limited his playing time in 2021 to just 44 games.

But picking up Perez isn’t for a chance that his bat rebounds to 2019 form. Picking up Perez means that the team needs defense behind the dish. A tandem of Stallings and Perez would give the Pirates the best defensive combo in the league.

Perez probably won’t find a starting job. While the position isn’t known for its big hitters, most regular catchers had at least a 90 wRC+. Only 7 had a sub-90 wRC+ in 350 or more plate appearances. Though that includes guys who will be regular backstops next season like Tucker Barnhart, James McCann, Yadier Molina, and Christian Vazquez. Plus the Padres, who had struggles at catcher, aren’t going to pursue Perez with so many catching options currently in the organization. The only organization that may push hard for Perez is the Astros, but even then. One of their top prospects is a catcher and will be MLB-ready next season.

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The Pirates need a good, defensive second catcher behind Stallings, and Roberto Perez could be that guy. Perez wouldn’t cost much and the team probably could get him for $3 million at most. While the offensive upgrade over Michael Perez may not be all that much, maybe only by a 10-15% difference at the very most in wRC+, the massive upgrade in defense will surely play well, both on the field and with pitchers.