Bucs acquire catcher and designate McKenry for assignment

The Athletics' Brandon Moss is tagged out at home plate by Yankees catcher Chris Stewart during a game Thursday, June 13, 2013, in Oakland, Calif.
The Athletics' Brandon Moss is tagged out at home plate by Yankees catcher Chris Stewart during a game Thursday, June 13, 2013, in Oakland, Calif.
Photo by AP
Travis Sawchik
| Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, 11:18 a.m.

The Pirates acquired reserve catcher Chris Stewart from the New York Yankees on Monday for a player to be named.

To clear room on the 40-man roster, the Pirates designated catcher Michael McKenry for assignment.

Stewart is a strong defensive catcher. He possesses a skill that is prized by the Pirates — the ability to frame pitches. Stewart was second in baseball in turning balls into called strikes, 22.7 runs above average, according to Statcorner.com.

He trailed only Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy and ranked ahead of Cardinals Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina in framing. Pirates starting catcher Russell Martin ranked sixth while McKenry was slightly below average in that category.

Stewart also will improve the Pirates' ability to control the running game. Stewart threw out 17 attempting base stealers in 2013, tied for fifth in the American League. He has thrown out 33 percent of base stealers for his career, which covers parts of seven major league seasons with the Yankees, Giants, Rangers, Padres and White Sox. McKenry threw out just six of 41 base stealers in 2013 and 19 percent for his career.

Stewart is out of option years and is in line to open the season as Russell Martin's backup, the same role he held in New York in 2012. Tony Sanchez likely will open the season in Triple-A.

“We were drawn to the defensive package, the man and the fit on the club,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington said. “This move gives us solid catching depth at the upper levels while potentially allowing for significant development at-bats for Tony (Sanchez).”

The Pirates announced Stewart agreed to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration before the trade was completed. The Yankees added catching depth with the signing of free-agent catcher Brian McCann last week, allowing them to part ways with Stewart.

“I wanted to stay in New York, finish my career with the Yankees, but too many guys were there and I was the odd man out,” Stewart told the Wall Street Journal. “But they sent me to a place where I'm wanted, and I'm going with open arms.”

Stewart also is the answer to a trivia question. He is the last player to catch a Mariano Rivera save.

Stewart, 31, like McKenry, is not much of an offensive threat. The right-handed hitter batted .211 over 294 at-bats for the Yankees last season with four home runs and 25 RBIs. For his career, he's a .214 hitter.

The acquisition ends McKenry's time with the Pirates. McKenry hit .217 last season.

Wrote McKenry on his Twitter account Monday: “It's been an honor to wear a Pirates jersey & dive into the Pitt community over the last few years. It's difficult to part ways with the city.”

McKenry missed the last two months of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Sanchez became the backup catcher and the Pirates later traded for John Buck, who is a free agent and not expected back with the organization. McKenry figured to be a non-tender candidate Monday before the addition of Stewart.

Note: Evan Chambers, 24, the Pirates' third-round draft pick in 2009, died in his sleep over the weekend. An outfielder, Chambers hit a combined .191 with a .585 OPS with High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona in 2012. He played in only four games this season because of a foot injury.

Staff writer Rob Biertempfel contributed to this report. Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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