Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings is generating trade interest from clubs seeking help behind the plate, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. He lists both the Marlins and Yankees as possible matches in a trade.
Stallings, 32 next month, won’t wow anyone with his offensive numbers but is widely regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in the sport — if not one of the best defenders at any position. Over the past three seasons, he’s posted a .251/.331/.374 batting line with 17 home runs, 32 doubles and a triple in 780 plate appearances. That’s about nine percent worse than the league-average hitter, by measure of wRC+, though it’s right in line with the leaguewide average for catchers, specifically.
It might be tempting to assume that Stallings’ on-base percentage has benefited from hitting eighth in front of Pirates pitchers, but that’s not necessarily the case. Stallings has spent a good chunk of time in the eight spot, but he’s spent more time hitting fifth, sixth and seventh in the Pittsburgh lineup and actually has better walk rates out of those slots than he does in the eight hole.
Where Stallings truly shines, however, is with the glove. He’s ranked as one of the game’s best defenders for the past few seasons and finally got his well-deserved credit in 2021 when he took home his first NL Gold Glove Award. Stallings posted a massive 21 Defensive Runs Saved mark in 2021 and has racked up an outstanding 42 DRS dating back to Opening Day 2019.
Stallings has consistently delivered plus framing marks according to each of Statcast, FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, and he draws perennially strong marks for his pitch-blocking skills at Baseball Prospectus as well. In terms of controlling the running game, Stallings had something of a down season in 2021 (21% caught-stealing), though the pitching staff surely shared some of the blame in that regard; Stallings had a huge 36.2% caught-stealing rate from 2019-20.
The other element of Stallings’ appeal is his affordable salary and remaining club control. Because he doesn’t pile up the counting stats that portend significant arbitration salaries, he’s projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn a highly reasonable $2.6MM in 2022. He’s controlled another two seasons beyond that, so any club to acquire Stallings would be bolstering its catching corps through the 2024 season.
Pittsburgh doesn’t have an immediate heir-apparent to take the reins if Stallings is dealt. Between that fact and the combination of his salary, club control and excellent defense, Stallings may have higher trade value than some would expect when glancing solely at his offensive numbers. That said, the lack of an immediate successor in Pittsburgh shouldn’t necessarily dissuade the Bucs from jumping if a strong offer is presented. The Pirates aren’t contending in 2022 anyhow, and the free-agent market has a number of veteran options who could be plugged in as a stopgap while the team waits on 2021 No. 1 overall pick Henry Davis to develop in the minors.