The Brewers have until the end of November to decide what to do with the 13 remaining players they have on the roster that are eligible for salary arbitration. They’ve already taken care of a couple of cases, picking up a team option for Jeremy Jeffress to avoid arbitration and outrighting Stephen Vogt off the roster.
For the remaining players, we’ll take a look at what they did during the 2018 season, what they’re expected to make in a hypothetical arbitration hearing, and whether the Brewers should tender them a contract or non-tender them. Today it’s the team’s other catcher, who struggled to duplicate his 2017 success.
2018 salary: $560,100
2019 projection: $1.8 million
A career journeyman, Pina finally broke out at age 30 in 2017, putting together a 2-WAR season while hitting .279/.327/.424 with strong defense. That earned him the starting job in 2018, but whether it was the rigors of catching every day or just bad luck, Pina’s production fell off and he struggled with injuries a couple times during the season. A red-hot month of August in which he hit .400/.442/.511 in 17 games helped prop up his overall season numbers a bit, but by the end of the year, he was in a pretty clearly defined timeshare with Erik Kratz, with both catchers being assigned pitchers in the rotation.
The Case for Tendering
Even if 2017 was his career year with the bat, Pina is still one of the better defensive catchers in the league. He earned his first Gold Glove nomination this year, throwing out 41% of attempted basestealers — well above the league average of 28% — and only allowing 2 passed balls all season. He also graded out as a positive pitch framer, helping a Brewers pitching staff that frequently liked to live on the corners.
Even with the drop in offensive production — probably explained by a drop on his BABIP from an unsustainable .339 last year to .285 this year — he was still worth a win over replacement level in 2018.
The Case for Non-Tendering
Like Erik Kratz, any decision to non-tender Manny Pina would likely be tied to the Brewers acquiring another catcher to take over the starting role. Even then, Pina’s defense would provide plenty of value as a backup catcher, but the Brewers would have to decide whether they want to pay a catcher who only plays once or twice a week close to $2 million. If the Brewers do add another catcher and want a defensive specialist to serve as the second catcher, they could likely re-sign Christian Bethancourt (who became a minor league free agent this offseason) for a much lower price.
What Should Happen?
While Kratz’s future very much remains up in the air, it seems like a safe bet that Pina will be back with the Brewers in some capacity in 2019. His defense is clearly an asset, and even if he doesn’t ever hit .270 again, he’s got enough pull power to keep pitchers honest with the bat. Perhaps he’s better suited to a backup role or coming in as a defensive replacement, but that would be a role he should excel at and would still justify his projected $1.8 million salary. It’s hard to imagine the Brewers not finding room in their budget for Pina, at least for one more season.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs