The Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees have agreed on a trade that sends catcher Chris Stewart to the Bucs in exchange for cash or a player to be named later. Stewart, 31, is arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason. To make room for Stewart on the 40-man roster, the Pirates have designated Michael McKenry, also arbitration-eligible, for assignment.
Stewart doesn’t bring much to the Pirates in terms of offense as he is just a .214/.287/.288 career hitter. Defensively, however, Stewart is very good. Pitch framing appears to be Stewart’s biggest strength. Of all MLB catchers, Stewart was second in runs above average saved compared to other catchers. His 22.7 RAA is second behind only Jonathan Lucroy, and he is ahead of elite defensive catchers like Yadier Molina, Jose Molina and Russell Martin.
The puzzling part of this trade isn’t that they acquired Stewart in the first place, it’s that they are most likely blocking Tony Sanchez from the majors. Sanchez is probably the future at the catching position for the Pirates. They need to give him a full season as a backup to Martin before giving him the full-time job. Stewart has no options remaining, so he will probably be on the roster on Opening Day unless the Pirates trade him or release him at some point.
Martin is going to be a free agent after the 2014 season. There is no more time to keep Sanchez in the minor leagues to develop. Acquiring Stewart and forcing Sanchez to the minor leagues again is a terrible decision made by a front office that hasn’t made many bad decisions in the past year.