Marlins send three players to Pittsburgh Pirates to acquire catcher Jacob Stallings

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·3 min read
Gene J. Puskar
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  • Miami Marlins
    Miami Marlins
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  • Pittsburgh Pirates
    Pittsburgh Pirates
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  • Jacob Stallings
    Jacob Stallings
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  • Jorge Alfaro
    Jorge Alfaro
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The Miami Marlins acquired a Gold Glove catcher.

The team on Monday traded right-handed pitcher Zach Thompson, pitching prospect Kyle Nicolas and outfield prospect Connor Scott for Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings.

It’s the third big move by the Marlins over the last two days after agreeing to a four-year deal with outfielder Avisail Garcia on Sunday and giving Sandy Alcantara a five-year contract extension pending a physical.

The acquisition provides stability and an upgrade to one of the Marlins’ weakest positions last year. The Marlins appeared ready to move on from Jorge Alfaro, who was benched at the end of the 2020 season and in the playoffs in favor of Chad Wallach and was moved to left field during the final two months of the 2021 season in an attempt to get three younger catchers — Alex Jackson, Payton Henry and Nick Fortes — reps behind the plate. None of those three showed enough in that short timeframe to cement himself as a starter, forcing the Marlins to pursue outside options.

Enter Stallings.

He’s a defensive-minded catcher — critical for the Marlins’ talented yet still developing starting rotation — who is entering his first year of arbitration. Despite turning 32 in December, he’s under team control until 2025. MLB Trade Rumors projects Stallings to make $2.6 million in arbitration this year — $100,000 less than Alfaro’s projected salary by the site for next season.

He’s coming off a career year in which he won the National League’s Gold Glove as a catcher. Defensively, he had zero passed balls and caught 12 of 57 potential basestealers. Statcast has him ranked in the 43rd percentile for framing.

According to FanGraphs, Stallings led MLB catchers with 21 defensive runs saved and was tied with Omar Navarez for the third-highest overall defensive rating among 16 catchers who were behind the plate for at least 800 innings last season — trailing only the Oakland Athletics’ Sean Murphy and Philadelphia Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto.

He hit .246 last season with eight home runs, 20 doubles, 53 RBI and 38 runs scored. His 11.4 percent walk rate ranked in the 82nd percentile according to Statcast.

As for who the Marlins are sending to Pittsburgh in return, Miami dipped into its organizational depth.

Thompson was a pleasant surprise for the Marlins in his first big-league season, posting a 3.24 ERA in 75 innings over 26 appearances (14 starts). He filled a role in the back-end of the Marlins’ rotation when the club was dealing with injuries early in the season and moved into the bullpen toward the end of the year when the group became relatively healthy.

With the Marlins already having seven pitchers — Alcantara, Trevor Rogers, Pablo Lopez, Jesus Luzardo, Sixto Sanchez, Edward Cabrera and Elieser Hernandez — competing for five rotation spots, Thompson became expendable.

The other two players were among the club’s top-30 prospects but were essentially among the second tier of their respective positions inside the organization.

Nicolas, Miami’s competitive balance pick in the 2020 draft, was the Marlins’ 16th-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline. He finished his first pro season with the Double A Pensacola Blue Wahoos, where he had a 2.52 ERA with 50 strikeouts and a 1.67 batting average against over 39 1/3 innings in eight starts. But the Marlins’ starting pitching depth is arguably their strongest asset, and there were a slew of pitchers above Nicolas on the pecking order.

Scott, Miami’s first-round pick in 2018, was the No. 22 overall prospect in Miami’s system but has yet to play above Class A Advanced. He showed signs of improvement in 2021, setting career best marks across the board offensively, but like Nicolas he was behind many of his counterparts inside the organization.