This is one of those signings that’s pretty easy to bash. The Pirates announced Thursday that they’re giving journeyman Rod Barajas a cool $4 million to take over as their starting catcher. The deal includes a $3.5 million option for 2013.
It’ll be a career-best payday for the 36-year-old Barajas. He made $3.25 million while hitting .230/.287/.430 in 305 at-bats for the Dodgers last season. In 2010, he signed for a paltry $500,000 just as spring training was starting.
Barajas has simply never been in this kind of demand before. He had been a free agent five times previously; the earliest he had ever signed was Dec. 21.
So, why now? It’s not like Barajas is coming off a particularly big year. His .717 OPS for the Dodgers wasn’t a whole lot better than his career mark of .698.
I imagine it has something to do with the recent work that’s gone into evaluating catcher defense. According to Max Marchi’s work on The Hardball Times presented earlier this year, Barajas is one of the game’s very best pitch framers. Among starting catchers, only Russell Martin and Brian McCann do better in that area, which was pretty much impossible to evaluate before PITCHf/x data came along.
The Pirates probably have their own proprietary data on the subject that also suggests Barajas ranks among the game’s best defensive catchers. There certainly wouldn’t be any other big reason to give him $4 million on Nov. 10. He’ll hit his weight and knock a ball out of the park now and again, but his dreadful OBP hurts his value at the bottom of the lineup. He’ll need to make most of that money with his glove to be an asset for Pittsburgh.