Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

Pirates News arrow-downArrow Down icon Arrow Up icon

C Perez claimed; Polanco to play winter ball

@adamdberry
November 2, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- Last offseason, the Pirates added a pair of defensive-minded backup catchers with extensive experience in the American League East. They were back at it again on Friday amid a flurry of moves. Pittsburgh claimed catcher Michael Perez off waivers from Tampa Bay, adding a glove-first option behind Gold

PITTSBURGH -- Last offseason, the Pirates added a pair of defensive-minded backup catchers with extensive experience in the American League East. They were back at it again on Friday amid a flurry of moves.

Pittsburgh claimed catcher Michael Perez off waivers from Tampa Bay, adding a glove-first option behind Gold Glove Award finalist Jacob Stallings at the outset of the offseason.

The Pirates outrighted infielder/outfielder Kevin Kramer, catcher Luke Maile, reliever Yacksel Ríos and outfielder Jason Martin off their 40-man roster after reinstating them from the injured list. Pittsburgh also outrighted catcher John Ryan Murphy off the roster after he cleared waivers.

In addition, the Twins claimed left-hander Brandon Waddell off waivers and the Mets claimed right-hander Nick Tropeano.

Perez spent this season as the backup catcher for the AL champion Rays, working behind Mike Zunino. Curiously, the Rays cleared nearly all the catchers off of their roster by declining Zunino’s club option, waiving Kevan Smith and designating Perez for assignment. That left the 28-year-old Perez available for the Pirates.

“It’s really just continuing to try to add depth to that position,” general manager Ben Cherington said on Monday. “He’s a left-handed hitter and a good defender. That’s a nice complement to Stallings, potentially.”

Perez has four years of club control remaining and can be optioned to the Minor Leagues next season. The left-handed hitter slashed just .221/.286/.314 with two homers and 26 RBIs in 228 plate appearances over 84 games with the Rays over the past three years, though he previously showed more offensive potential, as he slashed .245/.338/.495 with 13 homers in 54 games for Triple-A Durham in 2019.

Perez, who singled and homered in the Rays’ 8-4 victory against the Yankees in Game 3 of the AL Division Series, is primarily known for his work behind the plate. He threw out six of the 19 baserunners attempting to steal against him this season and has caught 15 of 55 during his time in the Majors.

In 2019, Perez registered the 13th-best arm strength in the Majors among qualified catchers; Stallings was seventh. Perez's pitch-framing metrics have been slightly below the league average the past two years, according to Statcast, yet he has still accumulated plus-four Defensive Runs Saved since 2018.

Stallings emerged as a legitimate starting catcher this season, batting .248 with a .702 OPS while playing excellent defense. He finished second on the team with 0.9 Wins Above Replacement and was named the Clemente Award winner (team MVP) by the local chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

But Pittsburgh didn’t get much production from Stallings’ backups behind the plate. Maile was injured near the end of Summer Camp and didn’t take the field. Murphy hit just .172/.226/.207 with 28 strikeouts in 63 plate appearances, although young pitchers did praise his poise and game-calling. The Pirates are excited about some of their lower-level Minor League catchers, but they have no backstops among their top 30 prospects according to MLB Pipeline.

“He’s handled the job well defensively at the Major League level. He’s got some offensive track record at Triple-A,” Cherington said of Perez. “The offense hasn’t come around entirely at the Major League level. But there are some things about his offensive game that give us hope that that could improve. All the reports we got on the person and the character are really good. So, this early in the offseason, it was just an opportunity to hopefully make that position a little stronger. We’ll stay open on that. We know long term, organizationally, that’s an area that we want to make deeper and better.”

Polanco to play winter ball
Right fielder Gregory Polanco will play for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Republic Professional Baseball League this offseason in an attempt to make up for the time he’s lost over the past two seasons.

This will be Polanco’s first time playing winter ball since he took the field for Escogido in 2013-14, the offseason before his big league debut. He hopes to play in as many games of the league’s truncated schedule as possible, looking to compile a bunch of at-bats after an injury-shortened 2019 season and a pandemic-shortened ’20.

Polanco hit just .153/.214/.325 with seven homers, 22 RBIs and 65 strikeouts in 174 plate appearances over 50 games for the Pirates this season, thuogh his average exit velocity (92.9 mph) ranked among the top 5 percent of hitters in the Majors. The 29-year-old is under contract for $11.6 million next season.

“The encouraging thing is he came to us about it. In our exit meeting toward the end of September, [manager Derek Shelton] and I sat down with him, and he was really excited about playing this winter,” Cherington said. “That made us excited, because not everybody who has been established as a Major Leaguer and is earning the kind of money he’s making is always going to want to do that. But I think it speaks to Gregory’s desire and commitment to get better, and probably awareness also that there are things he’s got to find and improve on.”

Cherington noted that shortstop Erik González, relievers Richard Rodríguez and Michael Feliz, and prospect Oneil Cruz are also hoping to play winter ball in their native Dominican Republic this offseason.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.