The Pittsburgh Pirates have signed catcher Luke Maile to an MLB deal, according to Jon Heyman. Maile was previously with the Blue Jays, and has 657 plate appearances in the majors. Toronto non-tendered him at the start of this month when he was arbitration eligible for the first time.
Luke Maile is signing MLB deal with Pirates. The free agent catcher had been with Jays.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 16, 2019
Maile looks like a strong defensive catcher who doesn’t bring a lot of offense to the table. According to Baseball Prospectus, he ranked 14th in the majors in 2019 in adjusted Framing Runs Above Average. He also ranked 30th in blocking runs and 14th in Throwing Runs.
Maile was actually a 2.1 fWAR player in 2018, getting 231 plate appearances. He had his best offensive season, with a .248/.333/.366 line, along with strong defensive metrics, including ranking 16th that year in framing.
The Pirates have Jacob Stallings as their only catcher right now. He’s coming off a high season, similar to what Maile did in 2018. Stallings hit .262/.325/.382 last year in 210 plate appearances, along with good defensive value. That resulted in a 1.3 fWAR.
There isn’t a long-term catcher between these two guys. Stallings turns 30 next week and Maile turns 29 in February. Both guys profile better as defensive backups, rather than starting catchers.
But the Pirates aren’t in a position to be picky. They have no long-term starting catchers anywhere in the organization, and their only MLB option for 2020 was Stallings. At best, one of these guys will be around as the backup when the Pirates become contenders again. Until then, the Pirates could benefit from their defense.
Since the Pirates aren’t expected to win in 2020, the biggest focus from the catching position should be defense and working with the young pitchers. Mitch Keller tops that list, with the chance to lead the rotation in the future. The Pirates could also benefit from increasing the value of guys like Chris Archer and Keone Kela in any way they can.
The fact that Maile and Stallings have both shown 1-2 WAR production in a half season does make the combo a good gamble. If one of them can at least hit enough to match their best season, the Pirates could get good enough catching production behind the plate to not even notice how thin their depth is.
All of this said, the Pirates do have thin depth at this position. Maile was signed to an MLB deal, so you’d imagine he’s got an inside track here. He does have an option remaining, so he could be a third catcher out of Triple-A. Regardless, the Pirates need more catching, and shouldn’t stop here.