The Pittsburgh Pirates could be facing a decision with catcher Tyler Heineman this off-season given the need for 40-man roster space
When the Pittsburgh Pirates were scrambling to find catching options after Roberto Perez suffered a season-ending injury and were forced to start Michael Perez and Andrew Knapp behind the dish, the team went out and selected Tyler Heineman off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Heineman served his purpose, but with a myriad of Rule 5 eligible prospects, including two catching prospects (Endy Rodriguez and Blake Sabol), what will the Pittsburgh Pirates do with Heineman this offseason?
Heineman did basically nothing with the bat. He hit just .211/.277/.254 with a .244 wOBA, and 54 wRC+. The only positive thing you can say about Heineman when he stepped to the plate was that he didn’t strike out. He had just an 8.2% K-rate, the lowest among all catchers with at least 150 plate appearances all season.
But Heineman was brought in for his defense and did just that. Despite catching fewer than 400 innings (386.1), Heineman racked up +5 Defensive Runs Saved and +4.2 framing runs. With a 1.94-second pop time, he had the 19th-fastest reaction in all of baseball (the league average is 2.0 seconds). For a defensive specialist, he was pretty darn good.
The thing is, the Pittsburgh Pirates already have a no-hit/all-field catcher with Jason Delay. Both Heineman and Delay had almost identical offensive numbers. While Heineman slashed .211/.277/.254, Delay batted .213/.265/.271. Heineman clocked in with a .244 wOBA, while Delay had a .243 mark. Delay posted a 53 wRC+ to compare to Heineman’s 54 wRC+. Delay was a plus defender with +3 DRS and +3.5 framing runs. The only things Heineman did significantly better than Delay was strike out less (Delay had a 29.9% strikeout rate) and was quicker on the draw (Delay’s reaction time was 1.99 seconds). But Delay displayed better arm strength to help compensate for the slightly slower pop time.
It would seem redundant for the Pirates to carry the same player on the roster, so they have a few routes to take. Delay still has minor league options left. Assuming the Pirates sign another catcher this winter, Delay can be shipped to Triple-A, and Heineman can remain the backup catcher. But Heineman also has options remaining, and the opposite could take place (Delay takes over as the second backstop, and Heineman goes to Triple-A). The third option is to outright DFA or release Heineman. It’s always nice to have a good defensive catcher around, but the Pirates need to make room on the roster and fast. Given Delay’s similarity to Heineman, they can afford to let go of Heineman.
But unless the Pirates absolutely need to find room on the 40-man roster, I think Heineman’s roster spot is safe for now. The Pirates could make room on the 40-man by DFA’ing the likes of Jeremy Beasley, Junior Fernandez, Yohan Ramirez, Eric Stout, Nick Mears, Beau Sulser, Zack Collins, Ali Sanchez, non-tender Duane Underwood Jr., and trade Kevin Newman. In the event that the Pirates do sign a free-agent catcher, they’ll likely DFA Collins before Heineman, given that Heineman has options remaining and at least provides good defense. In contrast, Collins’ only selling points are slight versatility (he can play 1B and C) and has more power potential (career 91.1 MPH exit velocity).
In the end, I think Heineman ends up surviving this off-season. He is pretty much what any team would expect out of their second-string catcher, and the Pirates learned their lesson the hard way the last off-season when their only major league off-season catching addition was Roberto Perez. The Pirates have a dozen other players they can DFA, trade, or non-tender before having to DFA Heineman, and even if he doesn’t start the year in the major leagues, it’s better to have him lurking on the 40-man roster or at Triple-A than it is to have Andrew Knapp, Michael Perez, or Zack Collins as your back-up options.