Pittsburgh Pirates: How will they address the catcher position in 2013?

With the MLB postseason still taking place and the winter meetings and free agency still a good bit away, it’s a good opportunity to take a look at what the Pirates have and what they need to address position-by-position.

Today I will begin behind the dish and look at the catching position, one of numerous holes the Pirates front office must address in the near future.

October 3, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Michael McKenry (55) signs autographs for young fans before playing the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park. The Atlanta Braves won 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Rod Barajas won’t be back even though he acknowledged that he would take a pay cut to do so.

That leaves Michael McKenry, who isn’t the answer. “The Fort” probably played a little too much this season and after getting hot mid-season, he struggled badly down the stretch and ending up striking out almost once in every three at bats. I like McKenry as the backup going into the 2013 season, but I hate him as the primary catcher.

If that’s the case, which it probably will be, it once again will show the fact that the Pirates overvalue their own players and fail to realize when there is a hole that needs plugged.

Here’s a look at what’s currently in the organization (Double-A or higher)

McKenry: .233 AVG/ .320 OBP / .762 OPS / 12 HR/ 39 RBI (MLB)

Tony Sanchez: .233/ .316/ .724/ 8/ 26 (62 games AAA)

Ramon Cabrera: .276/ .342/ .709/ 3/ 39 (112 games AA)

There’s really not much to get excited about. You would think that by now Sanchez would be ready, but is he? I don’t know that he’s shown that he’s ready to be an everyday catcher, and he shouldn’t be called upon to be a backup. However given the Pirates reluctance to go with many young players and Clint Hurdle’s tendency to bury them on his bench, you can’t rule that scenario out.

However Sanchez behind the plate doesn’t make the Pirates any worse than the Barajas/McKenry combination this season, but does it make them any better? That’s the goal, isn’t it? To get better?

If so, with that being said, we can turn our attention to the free agent class.

It’s not a great free agent class of catchers this season. It’s headlined by the likes of Brian McCann, Carlos Ruiz, Russell Martin, Mike Napoli, Gerald Laird and A.J. Pierzynski. McCann and Ruiz have club options that will certainly be picked up, but everyone on that list is likely out of the Pirates price range to begin with.

No other free agent catchers shouldn’t even be considered as a backup option.

Without adding any payroll at all, the Pirates will be starting the season with a $63 million payroll, so I wouldn’t expect them to add much of anything this offseason.

However Napoli is an intriguing option that would be nice to have in the middle of the Pirates order.

He’s a guy that can play first base when he’s not catching and comes with a big bat, hitting over 20 homers in each of the past five years and over 25 in two of the past three.

Napoli also threw out 36 percent of base runners in 2011 and 21 percent in 2012, but that problem is more in the Pirates organization instead of the individual catchers.

But the bad news is that Napoli made $9.4 million this season and as a free agent for the first time in 2013, he will be out of the Pirates price range.

That brings me to potential trades.

A guy like Arizona’s Miguel Montero could be had, but the Bucs likely won’t both pay the price to acquire him nor be willing to pay the $60 million he’s due over the course of the next five seasons, but he’s a guy that would solidify the position.

With all of that out of the question, there are probably only two likely scenarios for next season.

One involves the Pirates trading for a marginal backup catcher and giving the starting job to McKenry, which I don’t like.

The other involves a Sanchez-McKenry platoon.

It basically all depends on what type of spring Sanchez has. My only hope there is that if they decide to go with Sanchez, then they do it all the way. It makes no sense for him to sit behind McKenry.

Free agency is a long while away, but I wouldn’t expect anything major from the Pirates, especially behind the plate.

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Topics: Michael McKenry, Pittsburgh Pirates, Tony Sanchez

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