Pirates, Barajas agree to one-year deal
Veteran catcher's contract includes a club option for 2013
PITTSBURGH -- An aggressive pursuit of free agent Rod Barajas paid off Thursday for the Pirates, who were able to ink the veteran catcher to a one-year deal that includes a club option for 2013.
The addition of Barajas, 36, eliminates one item off the Pirates' offseason to-do list, as the team needed to find a starting catcher for the 2012 season. General manager Neal Huntington confirmed that Barajas was signed to be the team's No. 1 catcher.
Barajas will make $4 million in 2012, according to an industry source. His '13 club option is worth $3.5 million and does not include a buyout. A short-term commitment makes sense for the Pirates, who are hopeful that top catching prospect Tony Sanchez will be ready to ascend to the Majors in the next year or two.
Though the Pirates' offseason work is far from done, Barajas' deal currently makes him the highest paid player in the organization. Barajas said that salary, playing time, state of the team and location all played a role in his decision to sign with Pittsburgh only a week after the free-agent market opened.
"They were aggressive," said Barajas, who confirmed that he also had firm offers from multiple other teams. "They definitely showed that they wanted me to be a part of the team. For me, to feel like I'm wanted is huge. The way they came after me, that's what you want to feel when you're a free agent."
Barajas spent 2011 with the Dodgers, where he started 85 games behind the plate and batted .230 with 13 doubles, 16 homers, 47 RBIs and a .287 on-base percentage. He missed nearly a month during the summer while recovering from a right ankle sprain.
Though the Pirates are hopeful that Barajas will be able to start more than 85 games in 2012, Huntington did acknowledge the need to be sensitive to Barajas' workload given his age and durability. Barajas has started more than 100 games only once in the past six seasons, that coming in 2009 when he started 110 with the Mets/Dodgers.
"We're going to have to make sure we monitor his workload and put him in position to be successful," Huntington said. "That's why the No. 2 catcher is going to be important as well. The majority of the rest of the free-agent market is in the same level of games caught."
Right now, Jason Jaramillo and Michael McKenry are positioned to compete for that backup catcher spot during Spring Training. Huntington did not rule out acquiring another catcher this winter, though that doesn't appear likely given the other holes that the Pirates must first fill.
Huntington added that he would not close the door on the possibility of Ryan Doumit or Chris Snyder -- both recently had their club options declined -- returning, but one source said, just before the Barajas signing was announced, that there was already a "very small chance" that Doumit would return to Pittsburgh.
Barajas, who traveled back to his southern California home on Thursday after undergoing a physical in Pittsburgh, is a 13-year veteran who has been with seven different organizations. He has shown the ability to hit for some power, though his career average of .238 is fairly pedestrian.
With the free-agent market thin in catchers and the trade market not burgeoning in that area either, the Pirates put more value on finding a backstop with strong defensive skills as the club sifted through its options. Barajas fits that mold.
In addition to his reputation of working well with pitching staffs, Barajas has controlled the running game well throughout his career. He threw out 25 percent of basestealers in 2011 and had a caught-stealing percent of 33 or higher each year from '02 to '09.
Barajas' biggest task heading into the 2012 season will be familiarizing himself with another new pitching staff.
"I've done this a few times where I've had to switch teams and have to learn a whole new pitching staff," Barajas said. "That's what Spring Training is for. I know what I have to do to get myself ready. I've done this in the past. I definitely use that time in Spring Training to get to know these guys."
Barajas said he had not yet had any conversations about the possibility of participating in the Pirates' January mini-camp. Getting the pitchers started in their preseason throwing regimens is typically the focus of that yearly gathering.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.