After the Pirates traded their 2021 starting catcher, Jacob Stallings, on Monday, they sat at zero catchers on their 40-man roster. Therefore, it made sense they’d be in on the free-agent catching market to fill the void.
The club announced it signed Roberto Pérez to a one-year contract on Wednesday. Terms were not announced, but a source told MLB.com it's worth $5 million.
“In Roberto, we are adding an elite defender who is able to effectively handle our pitching staff and further aid in its development,” said general manager Ben Cherington. “He is known to be a great teammate and fierce competitor, and we look forward to having him in a Pirates uniform.”
Pérez is not very different from the profile of his predecessor in Pittsburgh. Though Stallings (.701 career OPS) is not known for offensive prowess, Pérez (.657) is a downgrade with the bat on paper. However, the incoming catcher’s peak in 2019 was higher than any produced by Stallings, as Pérez hit 24 home runs in 119 games.
Pérez also won the American League Gold Glove Award at catcher in 2019 and ‘20. His career 7.8 defensive WAR per Baseball Reference is more than double his offensive WAR (2.9). Alongside good receiving, his arm is strong; Pérez’s caught-stealing rate of 71% in the shortened ‘20 season was the best among qualified catchers in the Majors.
“He's his own player,” Cherington said. “He's a unique personality, his own personality, but certainly some of the things he does well are similar to what Stalls did well.”
Part of the interest in Pérez was also based on the staff he worked with in Cleveland, which has included AL Cy Young Award winners like Corey Kluber and Shane Bieber.
“He’s coming from an organization that has done a great job and one that we admire, in terms of its pitching development and pitching infrastructure,” Cherington said. “He's been a part of that for a long time. Certainly caught some great pitchers there. We like a lot about that part of his game.”
Though Pérez seems to slot into the starting role at catcher for the Pirates, there’s still uncertainty about who will fill the second spot. Michael Perez was designated for assignment to clear space ahead of Rule 5 Draft protections, but he remains in the organization after hitting .143 with a .511 OPS in 70 games last season.
Jamie Ritchie, a Minor League signing in November, is also in the mix for the backup job, per Cherington. Ritchie, 28, has no Major League experience, but he’s played in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League the past three seasons while producing an .835 OPS with a .402 on-base percentage in 183 games at that level.
But nothing is settled at the position just yet.
“We'll keep looking," Cherington said. “It’s Dec. 1. … Typically, Dec. 1 is still pretty, pretty early in the offseason. So we'll keep looking at that position and see if we can strengthen it before Spring Training.”