December 20: The Pirates have officially announced the signing.
December 17: The Pirates have agreed to a one-year deal with free agent catcher Austin Hedges, according to The New York Post’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link). Hedges, a client of the Boras Corporation, will receive $5MM.
Catcher was a position of need for the Bucs this winter, and they’ve now reinforced things behind the plate in re-signing Tyler Heineman to a minors deal yesterday, and now landing Hedges for what will likely be the bulk of the playing time. Jason Delay or possibly Endy Rodriguez (the only other catcher on Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster) could also compete with Heineman for the backup job, and it’s possible former first overall pick Henry Davis might get his first taste of the majors in 2023. Davis made his Double-A debut with 31 games last season and will move onto Triple-A this coming year, but the Pirates are naturally not going to do anything to rush one of their top prospects.
Last offseason, the Pirates signed Roberto Perez to a one-year, $5MM deal, only to have Perez’s season ended by hamstring surgery after only 21 games. Now, the Bucs have signed Perez’s former Cleveland teammate Hedges to another $5MM pact in order to again add some veteran stability to the catching position.
Hedges came to the Guardians as part of the big nine-player swap between Cleveland and San Diego at the 2020 trade deadline, and immediately joined forces with Perez as the team’s regular catching tandem. The Guardians have long focused on defense over offense from the catcher’s spot, with Hedges in particular reflecting that tactic. Since Hedges debuted in the majors in 2015, his 54 wRC+ is the lowest of any player in baseball (minimum 2000 plate appearances).
With the glove, however, Hedges is one of baseball’s best. He rates a +75 from the Defensive Runs Saved metric, and both Fangraphs and Statcast have considered him an elite-level pitch-framer as recently as 2019, though his framing numbers are more above-average over the last three seasons than at the very top of the class. Hedges has thrown out 102 of the 338 (30.18%) baserunners who have attempted to steal on him during his career.
Hedges will look to continue this work with a Pirates rotation that is still relatively short on MLB experience, though Pittsburgh just added a more veteran arm in Vince Velasquez. The Pirates have been actively picking up lower-cost veteran talent this offseason, signing Hedges, Velasquez, Carlos Santana, and Jarlin Garcia to one-year deals in free agency, while also picking up Ji-Man Choi in a trade from the Rays.