The timing lined up, but it wasn’t necessarily ideal.
MLB collective bargaining agreement meetings in Dallas were on a five-minute break on this Monday afternoon. Jacob Stallings, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ representative for the MLB Players’ Association, saw the news at that point.
“Probably wouldn’t have chosen that time to find out I’ve been traded for the first time if I had the choice,” Stallings said a day later from his hotel room as meetings continue in an attempt to avoid a league lockout with the current CBA agreement set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.
The fact that Stallings is even in this position, however, still baffles him at times.
He said multiple times during his 20-minute interview session Tuesday that he never thought he would make to the big leagues, let alone be a starting catcher or one worthy enough to win a Gold Glove Award when the Pirates picked him in the seventh round of the 2012 draft.
He never thought his profile would rise high enough to be the centerpiece of a trade, especially after the Pirates designated him for assignment in 2016 and outrighted him off the 40-man roster a second time in 2019 before he got his first crack as a full-time starter during the shortened 2020 season.
But here he is.
The Marlins sent three players — right-handed pitcher Zach Thompson and two of the organization’s top 30 prospects in pitcher Kyle Nicolas and outfielder Connor Scott — to Pittsburgh on Monday to land their new starting catcher.
And when speaking about his journey, his path to the present, he used a line from his new boss, Marlins CEO and Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter.
“He said when you’re playing, you’re really only concerned with keeping a job and getting a job, and that’s really been my focus,” Stallings, 31, said. “Just trying to keep the job, stay in the big leagues and reach my potential and just try to get better and be as good as I can be. That’s really my focus and always has been throughout my journey.”
That journey took a while to develop, but Stallings is establishing himself as one of baseball’s premier defensive catchers.
His 28 defensive runs saved since he became a full-time starting catcher in 2020 leads the position, according to FanGraphs, and his framing rate according to the site is the second best in that span behind only the Milwaukee Brewers’ Omar Navarez.
“The most important role for a catcher is game calling, pitcher-catcher relationship, just everything that encompasses helping helping pitchers get better, which in terms helps your team get better and helps your team win,” Stallings said. “That’s all I really care about, honestly. I mean, I can go 0 for 4 and if we win, it’s a good day at the office. If pitchers throw well, and that’s all I’m really concerned with.”
And he has a good group of pitchers to work with.
The Marlins have prioritized starting pitching during the course of this rebuild that is entering Year 5. Sandy Alcantara leads the group, with the likes of Trevor Rogers, Pablo Lopez, Sixto Sanchez, Edward Cabrera, Jesus Luzardo and Elieser Hernandez following.
Having a veteran, defensive-minded catcher behind the plate, the Marlins hope, will only enhance the club’s young-yet-talented rotation’s development.
“When I talked to [general manager] Kim [Ng] and [manager] Don [Mattingly], that was the main thing that they brought up — just somebody that can help their pitching staff and that’s what they really want and value and I’m hopeful I can I can do that,” Stallings said. “I don’t know how much help these guys need. They’re all pretty good already, but anything I can do to help them and help the team, I’m gonna do everything I can.”
Stallings said he has already talked with Rogers and catching coach Eddy Rodriguez as well as shortstop and team captain Miguel Rojas since being acquired. He hopes to as acclimated as he can with the club before MLB’s impending lockout starts on Thursday (Stallings said “both sides are working hard” to get an agreement done but did not feel comfortable providing any more of an update than that).
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Stallings said, “but I’m excited.”