Barajas getting acquainted with Pirates
BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — The Pittsburgh Pirates impressed Rod Barajas with an aggressive pitch in free agency, selling the veteran catcher on the team’s promising future and the role he could play in helping them be successful.
Manager Clint Hurdle envisions the 36-year-old having a positive influence on a revamped pitching staff, strengthening the defense and impacting the offense, too.
Barajas signed a one-year, $4 million contract that includes a $3.5 million club option for 2013.
That may seem a little high for a .238 career in 13 seasons with six previous teams, however the Pirates are banking on him being worth it.
“His job, as he well knows, is to make every guy that’s out on that mound better,” Hurdle said Wednesday. “And we feel very comfortable in the fact that he’s going to be able to do that.”
Barajas hit .230 with 16 homers and 47 RBIs in 98 games with the Dodgers last season. He hit 52 homers over the past three seasons with Los Angeles, the New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays. He’s also played for Arizona, Texas and Philadelphia during his career, winning a World Series ring with the Diamondbacks in 2001.
The Pirates took what they felt was a step forward a year ago, getting off to a promising start in the NL Central and leading the division in late July before stumbling badly down the stretch to finish 72-90, extending the club’s streak of consecutive of losing seasons to 19.
“They did great for those four months,” Barajas said. “But they just didn’t have enough in the tank for the rest of the season.”
The Pirates relied on their pitching last season. The staff was a pleasant surprise, before the team finished with an overall 4.04 ERA.
“But I think last season was huge. It showed them that they’re capable of winning in this league, in this division,” he said. “And at the same time, it kind of showed them what it takes to win for more than four months. They have to figure that out. I’m sure adjustments were made. We brought in some veteran guys to kind of help out, hopefully be a big impact and help them finish the job this year.”
Less than a week into spring training, Barajas is still getting acquainted with a pitching staff that has been bolstered by the acquisition of a couple of veterans who’ve had success in the majors, right-hander A.J. Burnett and lefty Erik Bedard.
James McDonald, Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens and Kevin Correia are holdovers from last season who the Pirates hope will benefit from working with Barajas.
“First of all, I’m impressed with the arms. … The guys I’ve caught and the guys that I’ve seen throw, they all seem like they’ve got pretty good velocity. They’re all big kids, and they all seem like they have a good head on their shoulders,” Barajas said, adding it’ll take most — if not all — of camp to get comfortable with the entire staff.
“You talk to pitching coach (Ray Searage). You talk to the pitchers themselves. I’ll talk to (Michael) McKenry, who had a chance to catch them last year,” Barajas said. “For me it’s about gathering as much information from as many different people as possible.”
The Pirates signed the right-handed hitting Barajas after declining options on catchers Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit. McKenry appeared in 58 games last season, batting .222 with two homers and 11 RBIs.
Barajas said his agent was in discussions with another team, when the Pirates entered the mix and sealed a deal within a few days.
“They were real aggressive. … They jumped in quick, said they really wanted me to go there,” he said. “As aggressive as they were, it showed how much they wanted me. It was kind of a no-brainer for me. They definitely wanted me to be a part of this team, and felt like I could do something to help out.”
Hurdle said the veteran brings “seasoned experience” that will make the Pirates a better team in many ways.
“He’s caught in a number of different venues,” Hurdle said. “He’s caught in some pitching-rich organizations. He’s been a go-to guy for certain pitchers that have had success in the league.”
Barajas appeared in 98 games last season for Los Angeles, which finished with a 3.54 team ERA.
“He also is going to solidify us defensively up the middle, and he also is going to bring some barrel — a bat that can be productive in the lineup,” Hurdle said. “Game-calling, slow heartbeat, knowing the league, experience — all those things. And, the fact that he still feels there’s things in front of him to accomplish and wants to be involved in the development of a younger staff.”
The Pirates are hoping he can play anywhere from 100 to 120 games. Barajas said he wants to do whatever is best for the team.
“I never go into a season expecting to play a certain amount of games,” Barajas said. “I’m the type of player, if my name is in that lineup, I’m going to be out there ready to go.”
He hasn’t topped 100 games since 2009, with Texas (125).
“Can I play more than 90 to 100 games? Absolutely. But it’s up to Clint. Whatever plan he has for me, I’m definitely willing to go with it. I like playing, I like starting. I like playing a lot, and I like building a relationship with my pitchers,” he said. “For me, it’s always, the more games I play, the better. At the same time, it’s really easy to run people down.
“The long season can take a toll on a catcher, so we have to be careful about how many games I do play.”