Taking advantage of the deadline Monday to offer contracts to arbitration-eligible players, the Pirates turned another team’s non-tender candidate into catching depth.
The Pirates acquired catcher Chris Stewart from the New York Yankees for a player to be named later and agreed to terms with Stewart on a one-year contract. To make room for Stewart, the Pirates designated another catcher, Michael McKenry, for assignment.
They also tendered a contract for the 2014 season to the other seven players eligible for salary arbitration, committing the Pirates to enter the arbitration process with them, as well as the rest of the unsigned players on the 40-man roster.
Charlie Morton, Neil Walker, Gaby Sanchez, Mark Melancon, Vin Mazzaro, Pedro Alvarez and Travis Snider received contracts. Each of the moves was expected except for Snider, who after hitting .215 with a .281 on-base percentage in 285 plate appearances and missing a month because of a toe injury, was questionable to receive an offer.
The Pirates did not tender contracts to McKenry, Garrett Jones and Kyle McPherson, who were recently designated for assignment.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the Pirates and Yankees worked out the trade Friday, but first Stewart, who was eligible for arbitration for the first time, had to agree to a new contract with the Pirates. He did so Monday, meaning he avoided arbitration. Terms of the contract were not known.
The remaining players offered contracts can agree to terms at any time until their arbitration hearings, which begin as early as Feb. 1. Players often sign before the hearings. The players and teams exchange salary figures Jan. 17.
Stewart, 31, will start the season in the majors because he is out of minor league options, while McKenry and Tony Sanchez have options remaining; Stewart told the Journal Monday that the Pirates informed him he would back up Russell Martin. Stewart and Martin played together for the Yankees in 2012, combining to start all 162 games.
The Pirates try to insure themselves with catchers who are defensively capable of playing in the majors, especially after injuries to several catchers in 2011. If McKenry clears waivers, he could join Sanchez at Class AAA Indianapolis, with Stewart and Martin on the active roster.
Stewart hit .211 with a .293 on-base percentage in 109 games with the Yankees in 2013, the most playing time he has received in his seven-year major league career. He took over the majority of the catching duties after Francisco Cervelli was first hurt, then suspended as part of the Biogenesis investigation.
Stewart was a candidate to be non-tendered at the deadline after the Yankees agreed to terms with free-agent Brian McCann, who joined a logjam of catchers on the Yankees 40-man roster.
While providing almost nothing with the bat, Stewart is considered a strong defender. He threw out 31 percent of potential base stealers in 2013 and stands at 33 percent in his career. McKenry caught only 15 percent of runners in 2013, 18 percent in 2012.
McKenry, 28, was eligible for arbitration as a Super 2 player and also was a candidate to be non-tendered. He hit .217 with a .262 on-base percentage and three homers before surgery on the lateral meniscus in his left knee ended his season in late July.
Alvarez voided a $700,000 contract option for 2014 and became eligible for arbitration, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington confirmed last week. Alvarez, Mazzaro, Melancon and Snider are eligible for the first time.
Walker, who qualified for Super 2 eligibility before this past season, and Sanchez are eligible for the second time. Morton is eligible for a final year and will become a free agent after the 2014 season.
NOTE — Minor league outfielder Evan Chambers passed away in his sleep this past weekend, the Pirates confirmed Monday. He was 24.
“Beyond being just a talented ballplayer, Evan was a great teammate and a quiet leader who went about his craft as a professional every day,” Huntington said in a statement. “Off the field, Evan loved making a difference in the community, and often dedicated a lot of his time working with children in the communities in which he played.”
The Pirates selected Chambers in the third round of the 2009 draft.
“Our heartfelt sympathies and prayers go out to his family for this unimaginable loss,” Huntington said.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter