News broke Monday night that the Pittsburgh Pirates had tendered contracts to all arbitration eligible players on the roster save one, Elias Diaz. Erik Gonzalez received and agreed to a one-year contract to avoid arbitration this off-season. Neither of these moves should have caught anyone off guard per se but they do show us some things the club will and won’t do under Ben Cherington's leadership.
First and, by far most obvious, they will most assuredly be shopping for a catcher. Diaz finished last season with a very poor -1.3 WAR and didn’t represent himself well in his first opportunity to start regularly for the Pirates. Expectations were high for Elias after a solid 2018 that saw him fill in and, in many ways, surpass Francisco Cervelli on the depth chart.
However, 2019 saw him regress and many pitchers openly requested Jacob Stallings to be their personal catcher. Now I’m no math major but when three of the five starters want your backup to catch for them, guess what you aren’t anymore.
Deciding to non-tender Diaz says some very interesting things about Mr. Cherington. First, he isn’t afraid to move on when the talent isn’t good enough. Making this decision isn’t safe. Say what you will but, Diaz is, at the very least, a capable MLB catcher. At least functionally he can handle the rigors of stacked starts and has shown upside with the bat albeit a year removed. There are no guarantees that an upgrade is going to sign here, and this shows confidence in both his own ability to find a candidate and to get the deal done.
I’d also add that shows that they have some targets in mind for the role. I can’t imagine the leadership will be satisfied heading into 2020 with Jacob Stallings as the incumbent starting backstop, unless they deal for a youngster who needs to get his feet wet. There are still options out there in the market and this is a solid sign to any of them that the Pirates are a great place to look if they want an opportunity to start.
As for Erik Gonzalez, most fans are not going to like the signing, but don’t be quick to dismiss the way he ended the season. This is exactly the type of guy you keep on your roster who can handle three or four positions capably and provide some speed off the bench.
Keeping a player like Erik tells me the Pirates don’t plan to execute a full rebuild. This isn’t a sign in isolation, but the Bucs have cheaper options to fill this role if they wanted to go that route. Kevin Kramer, Cole Tucker, hell even Pablo Reyes could perform this duty and if you were looking to strip this organization to the bones and start over. There would be no reason to hold onto Gonzalez. It also tells me they aren’t exactly sold on Ke’Bryan Hayes being MLB-ready. If they felt he was knocking on the door, I think this is a player they might consider letting go of in lieu of eliminating blocks to his progression.
I’m pleased to see the move with Diaz. It says something very important to me. As of right now the Pittsburgh Pirates are no longer accepting ‘good enough,’ they want instead ‘good’. We’ve been waiting patiently to see a move, any move, to shed some light on the thinking this GM will employ. These moves while not earth-shattering do show some signs that they aren’t simply going to head into 2020 hoping health makes the roster suddenly competitive. That’s positive and should be embraced by everyone.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years watching baseball, it's never fret too much or get overly excited about how your club’s roster looks in December. There are a whole lot of moves that will play out as the off season progresses and the Pirates should be in the conversation for almost every team looking to add or rebuild. The mystery that infuriates the fanbase serves a purpose on the market too. Until the Bucs pull the trigger on a deal, none of the other teams know what they want to accomplish either.
With every deadline that passes, every move that gets made, the Pirates open the window a bit wider and show us the direction they will head. Eyes open Pirates Nation, we’re only just getting started.
Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007