After he endured a concussion-marred few months, the Pirates released veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli last week. Including Cervelli’s numbers prior to his Pittsburgh exit, he and the Pirates’ current catchers – Elias Diaz and Jacob Stallings – have combined to record some of the lowliest production of any group of backstops in the league this year. Their minus-0.6 fWAR and 65 wRC+ each rank just 26th in the majors. With that in mind, general manager Neal Huntington will enter the offseason seeking help behind the plate, though he realizes it’s going to be difficult to find a solution.
Huntington told Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic (subscription) that “catching is the hardest position to come by,” adding: “We’ll take a look at what’s available in a trade and the free agent markets this offseason. And, hopefully, we’ll continue to push the guys who are here forward.”
Cervelli’s slated to hit the open market again after a few months with his new team, the Braves. The Pirates will “keep the door open” to re-signing him, according to Huntington, but Biertempfel points out that a reunion looks unlikely. Indeed, Pittsburgh would be hard-pressed to count on Cervelli again considering his meek 2019 output and extensive concussion history.
Turning to other free-agent possibilities, the small-budget Pirates don’t seem likely to pursue current Brewer Yasmani Grandal – who’s a strong bet to rake in the largest contract among available catchers over the winter. There will be some other potentially appealing choices who could come at affordable prices, though, with Jason Castro (Twins), Travis d’Arnaud (Rays) and Robinson Chirinos (Astros) among them. At least offensively, all three have logged better-than-average numbers this year with their present teams. As noted earlier, that hasn’t been the case for Diaz and Stallings.
It’s all the more damning for Diaz that he hasn’t made up for his subpar offense (64 wRC+) with stellar work behind the plate. While Diaz has caught a league-average 27 percent of would-be base-stealers, he ranks dead last out of 104 catchers in Baseball Prospectus Fielding Runs Above Average metric and has accounted for minus-18 Defensive Runs Saved. Stallings has been vastly superior in those categories (54% CS, 17th in FRAA, 8 DRS), not to mention with the bat (85 wRC+).
The soon-to-be 29-year-old Diaz and Stallings (30 in December) are without minor league options, making it eminently possible at least one won’t be with the Pittsburgh organization in 2020. However, in an ideal world, the Pirates will possess “three or four” viable backstops next year, Huntington said. The club does have two Triple-A catchers, Steven Baron and Christian Kelley, but the two of them have posted horrid numbers in the minors this season. That should further put the onus on Huntington to find outside help at the position in the coming months. Huntington suggested it’ll be a challenge, but the woeful production of the Pirates’ 2019 catchers means he won’t have a high bar to clear when it comes to landing an upgrade.