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Rightly or wrongly, one of the things the Pittsburgh Pirates are most noted for is being frugal.

The Pirates’ player payroll annually ranks among the lowest in Major League Baseball. No team had a smaller payroll at the end of the 2021 season than the Pirates’ $47 million and that number could be lower when next season begins.

That is the why the Pirates’ shuffling of catchers prior to MLB imposing a lockout Dec. 2 seemed somewhat baffling.

The Pirates traded Jacob Stallings, who won the National League Gold Glove this year, to the Miami Marlins for three players, including right-hander Zach Thompson and two minor leaguers on Nov. 29.

Stallings is eligible for salary arbitration and projected to make approximately $2.5 million in 2022.

Two days later, the Pirates signed free agent Roberto Perez to a one-year, $5-million contract. Perez won two American League Gold Gloves while playing for Cleveland in 2019 and 2020 but was limited to 44 games in 2021 because of injuries.

It seems incongruous that the low-budget Pirates would trade the best defensive catcher while theoretically adding $2.5 million to their payroll. However, general manager Ben Cherington had his reasons for making the move, spurred in part by the Marlins’ persistent pursuit of Stallings.

“We were approached to the point where we started to look at, could we maintain strength at the position and gain young talent at the same time?” Cherington said. “We worked through that sort of on parallel fronts and ultimately felt like, if we could do both, then it fit with what we’re trying to do as an organization.

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“That just made sense for us, even if it was hard. In this case, you know, it was hard because we respect Stalls. But, as we talked about before, we’ve got to be disciplined about adding players and adding talent however we can and as much as we can. We care about having strength behind the plate as we grow this team and help our own pitchers grow. I feel like we’re able to accomplish both with this trade even if, even if it was hard to do. It’s not supposed to be easy.”

The Pirates began a major rebuilding project following the pandemic-shortened 2020 season in which they had the worst record in the major leagues at 19-41. Since then, the Pirates have dealt almost every veteran player of any value for younger talent.

The Stallings’ trade is in line with all the other moves. And, in a sense, the Pirates felt it was worth spending an extra $2.5 million to acquire the three players from the Marlins.

At 28 years old, Thompson does not exactly fit a youth movement. However, the Pirates need someone to eat innings next season and Thompson had a solid rookie year with the Marlins in 2021 with a 3-7 record and 3.26 ERA in 14 starts and 12 relief appearances.

The minor leaguers in the deal were righty Kyle Nicolas and outfielder Connor Scott, both 22. Nicolas finished last season at the Double-A level in his first year of professional baseball while Scott spent 2021 in high-A.

Nicolas is considered the better prospect even though Scott was the Marlins’ first-round draft pick in 2018, selected 13th overall. Nicolas, the Marlins’ second-round choice last year, shined after being promoted to Double-A, going 3-2 with a 2.52 ERA in eight starts for Pensacola.

“He’s a big, physical right-hander with a really good fastball/slider (combination),” Cherington said.

Scott has hit just .253 with 16 home runs in three pro seasons but Cherington is intrigued by his first-round pedigree.

“We’re excited about getting to work with him, frankly, and getting him in our hitting program,” Cherington said. “We hope there’s some untapped potential.”

Almost lost in the Pirates’ constant talk about their farm system is the major league club. Pittsburgh went 61-101 this year and finished last in the NL Central for a third straight season.

Will swapping Stallings for Perez be help? It sure seem questionable on the surface.

Stallings led the major leagues with 21 defensive runs saved in 2021 while Perez graded out at minus 1. Furthermore, Stallings had a .246 batting average and eight home runs in 112 games while Perez hit just .149 with seven homers.

Both are 32 years old.

“He’s an excellent defender,” Cherington said of Perez before the lockout. “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. He’s known as a fierce competitor, passionate. He comes from a long line of great Puerto Rican catchers, so continue that tradition. There’s pop in the bat.”

Source: Forbes

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