Journeyman sends Tony Sanchez back to the minors

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The Pirates made two comparatively minor but nevertheless interesting personnel moves this week.

* They traded a player to be named to the New York Yankees for catcher Chris Stewart.

* They surprisingly offered arbitration to Travis Snider.

According to reports, Stewart, who was eligible for arbitration, already has agreed to a contract. He will be the team’s No. 2 catcher behind Russell Martin. He is said to be superior defensively and inferior offensively His career OPS is .575. Stewart, who will be 32, got the most playing time of his career last season. In 294 at bats, he hit four home runs and had a .566 OPS.

He is out of options, which means the Pirates can’t return him to the minors without the risk of losing him.

What’s intriguing about the acquisition of Stewart is what it means for Tony Sanchez, who had every reason to believe he would be the backup to Martin. Sanchez, the team’s No. 1 draft choice in 2009, had a breakout offensive season in Class AAA in 2013 with an .872 OPS. It does not speak well of Sanchez that his full-time MLB arrival date was pushed back as much as a year and particularly by a light-hitting journeyman like Stewart.

Sanchez will be 26 in May. He’ll be in his sixth minor-league season, several of which have been shortened by injuries. That’s is not what teams expect when they make a player their top pick. If his defense is lacking, it would not be much exposed playing behind Martin, who is expected to get the vast majority of the playing time.

Some will suggest he’ll be well served by another minor-league season. That’s not necessarily so for a player his age coming off a good season. There’s something to be said for learning on the MLB level. That’s particularly true with Martin available as a mentor.

It does delay the arbitration and free agent clocks of Sanchez, although, hopefully, the decision to go with Stewart was a baseball one and not a financial one.

Offering arbitration to Snider, a left-handed hitter, was not a big financial issue. He is expected to receive about $1.4 million in 2014. The surprise is that the Pirates haven’t given up on him after parts of two disappointing seasons with the team. In 389 at bats since being acquired from Toronto in July of 2012, Snider has six home runs, 109 strikeouts and an OPS of around .630. The vast majority of those at bats came against right-handed pitching.

Presumably, though, the Pirates still like his potential. He once was a top prospect and came to the Pirates with some glittering reviews. He'll be 26 in February, which means he will be a late bloomer if he blooms. For an organization that gave up too soon on Jose Bautista and Brandon Moss, it might be understandable that Snider would get a long look.

He be given every chance to make the roster in spring training and maybe even start on a platoon basis in right field. He’ll be competing, at least, with Jose Tabata, Andrew Lambo and possibly the recently acquired Jaff Decker. He also is out of options.

The other players offered arbitration and their expected salaries, according to MLBTradeRumors.com: Neil Walker $4.8 million; Pedro Alvarez $4 million; Charlie Morton $3.9 million; Mark Melancon $3 million; Gaby Sanchez $2.3 million; Vin Mazzaro $800,000.


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