It’s difficult to judge any move in baseball individually.
Case in point, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded their starting catcher, Jacob Stallings, in a surprise move yesterday. The move landed starting pitcher Zach Thompson, along with prospects Kyle Nicolas and Connor Scott. It also left the Pirates without a catcher for what is now almost certainly going to be a losing 2022 season.
One day later, the other shoe drops.
The Pirates signed Roberto Perez today to a one-year, $5 million deal. Perez is two years removed from having a season very similar to the one Stallings just had, although at this point he’s in his age-33 season and has been replacement level the last two seasons.
David Todd had a great take on how to view these two moves together:
I’m actually surprised the #Pirates paid this amount, but works for both sides. All the catching prospects need some more time in the minors.
Pirates downgraded hitting at the catcher position & essentially “paid” $2.5M for 3 prospects w the Stallings/Perez moves. https://t.co/rLx88Gj03w
— David Todd (@DTonPirates) November 30, 2021
The Pirates could have had Stallings, who is the better catcher right now. They traded him, boosting the farm system. They replaced him with a more expensive Perez, who looks like a downgrade. Ultimately, they’re waiting for Henry Davis.
It raises the question: Would you rather have Jacob Stallings from 2022-2024, with $2.5 million extra in 2022, or would you take Perez in 2022 at a higher price with Thompson, Scott, and Nicolas added to the system?
I like these moves when put together. I hate seeing Stallings go, but it’s easy to argue that the Pirates got better in the long-term, and didn’t lose much in the short-term. To dive deeper into my thought process, here’s my forecast of how the next three years could go for Jacob Stallings, Roberto Perez, and Henry Davis.
Jacob Stallings – The value for Stallings has never been higher. That’s not to say it won’t remain high, and can’t go higher. If he repeats his 2021 season in 2022, the Marlins will be very happy with their new starting catcher. Had he remained with the Pirates, they could have benefitted from his defense and work with the pitching staff, and possibly retained the same type of trade value next year. The downside with a hold approach to Stallings’ trade value is that he’s a catcher with limited success on the north side of age 30. The moment his value on the field starts to decline, the trade value will collapse. The Pirates dealt him when the value was high.
Roberto Perez – The easiest thing to do here is hope that Perez can bounce back to pre-pandemic form, when he had a 3.2 fWAR in 2019. That season was very similar to what we just saw from Jacob Stallings in 2021. I think that’s the best case scenario here, that the Pirates get Stallings production from Perez. The downside here is that Perez is in his age 33 season in 2022. He’s been replacement level the last two years. His defensive value declined in 2021. His offense did improve, but an unlucky BABIP hid some of those improvements. The Pirates are likely going to be losing in 2022. The best value they’ll get from Perez is his defense and experience, which will help with their young pitching staff. Perez has far more experience than Stallings to rely on, and a better assortment of pitchers he’s worked with. They might have upgraded on the help for the younger pitching staff.
Henry Davis – We don’t really know how the Pirates will handle a top prospect like Henry Davis under Ben Cherington. My guess is that he goes to Greensboro for the 2022 season, with a chance to move to Altoona by the end of the year. Again, we don’t really know. Nick Gonzales spent all year in Greensboro, so I’d expect the same from Davis, regardless of production.
Jacob Stallings – Here’s where it starts to look better having Stallings. Perez is signed to a one-year deal, while Stallings has three years of control remaining. I’d expect Stallings to remain a starter in 2023. He might not be a multi-WAR, top ten starter by this point. This would be his age-33 season. I think the Pirates could have formed a plan to win around him in 2023. It would have been difficult, especially with Stallings himself posing a big risk to that plan if he starts his decline. But the alternative to a declining Stallings is going through the free agent roulette again.
Roberto Perez – I see two paths for Perez in 2022. He either emerges as a sleeper starter, putting up a few WAR, and parlaying that into a multi-year contract; Or, he looks like a backup starting for a losing team, while providing value from his defense and experience. The Pirates will need a catcher again in 2023, and maybe even in 2024, depending on what happens with Henry Davis. If Perez provides value to the younger pitchers, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring him back in 2023. If he ended up Rod Barajas 2.0 in 2022, then the Pirates would be better off going back to free agency for 2023.
Henry Davis – I’d expect Davis to be in Altoona for most of this season, and I think there’s a chance he could be in the majors by the end of the season. He would pair well with a Perez type. For that matter, he would have paired well with a Stallings type. In the event Perez looks like a starter, the Pirates can bring him back on a two-year deal, creating a transition/backup plan for Davis. If Perez looks like a defensive catcher whose value added is more of the intangible variety, then he’d still be good to have around as a transition to Davis.
Jacob Stallings – This will be the age 34 season for Stallings, which a year older than Roberto Perez in 2022. I’d like to think that Stallings will remain a starter by this point in his career. It could be that he remains a starter, but a “Roberto Perez 2022” level starter. If that is the case, I’d have to imagine he gets non-tendered by this point, at which point I’d love to see the Pirates bring him back. It all depends on how Stallings does in 2022-23.
Roberto Perez – This would be the age 35 season for Perez. If he was good enough as a starter in 2022, and signed a two-year deal in 2023, he’d probably be an expensive backup for the Pirates in this year, and a mentor to Davis. They could also keep going back to free agency to find the newest version of Perez to keep costs lower. And, as I noted above, by 2024 that version of Perez might be Stallings.
Henry Davis – A somewhat aggressive push would have Davis arriving in the majors in late-2023, and opening the 2024 season as the starting catcher in Pittsburgh. I think having a veteran catcher to back him up, whether that’s Stallings or Perez, would be good. Beyond this season, the Pirates have some internal prospects who could be ready to backup Davis, possibly starting to take over by the end of 2024. I also wonder if Davis will be catching Thompson in the rotation by this point, if Nicolas will be in the bullpen, and if Scott will be in the outfield.