Why were the Pirates so quick to pounce on Rod Barajas?

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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.

Ken Giles: ‘I’m actually enjoying the game more than I did for my entire tenure in Houston’

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Blue Jays closer Ken Giles hasn’t exactly turned things around since joining the Blue Jays on July 31, when the club sent embattled closer Roberto Osuna to the Astros. Giles posted a 4.99 ERA in 30 2/3 innings with the Astros, then put up a slightly less miserable 4.58 ERA in 17 2/3 innings with the Jays. Still, he’s much happier with the Jays than he was with the Astros, even after winning the World Series with them last year. He said to Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star, “I’m actually enjoying the game more than I did for my entire tenure in Houston. It’s kind of weird to say that because I won a World Series with that team. But it’s like, I just felt trapped there. I didn’t feel like myself there. Overall, I felt out of place.”

Giles also said “the communication was lost” with the Astros and it was something that came easy with the Jays. He said, “When I came here, they stayed patient with me. I said hey, I want to work on this thing till I’m comfortable. All right. OK, I’m comfortable, let’s move on to this next thing. Pitching, you can’t just try to fix everything at once. For me, I had to take baby steps to get my groove back. The Jays allowed me to do that. Yeah, the team was out of contention, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still my career. I still have to prove myself. Them being so patient with me, understanding what I want to do, was very, very big.”

Giles, 28, has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining. He has shown promise despite his overall mediocre numbers. In non-save situations this season (with both the Astros and Jays), he has a 9.12 ERA. But in save situations, his ERA is a pristine 0.38. Giles could be a closer the Jays find themselves leaning on as they attempt to get back into competitive shape. Since it sounds like Giles is quite enamored with Toronto and with the Blue Jays, a discussion about a contract extension certainly could be had.