Morales agrees to Minor League deal with Bucs

Morales agrees to Minor League deal with Bucs

DALLAS -- Though not the club's headline move on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings, the Pirates did change the complexion of their catching competition with a pair of moves on Wednesday.

Before the Pirates finalized one-year Major League contracts with outfielder Nate McLouth and pitcher Erik Bedard, the club announced that it had signed 28-year-old catcher Jose Morales to a Minor League deal. Included is an invitation for Morales to join the big league club in Spring Training.

A few hours later, the Pirates designated catcher Jason Jaramillo for assignment in a move that cleared space on the 40-man roster for the team's free-agent signings. Jaramillo had been expected to compete with Michael McKenry for the role as the team's backup catcher.

Coming into play in the decision was the fact that Jaramillo was set to come into Spring Training without any remaining Minor League options. That means that the Pirates were going to have to give him the backup job or risk losing him on waivers.

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Pittsburgh did not want to make that commitment given how much they still think of McKenry.

"It was tough to sit here and almost commit to Jason as our backup catcher with everything that Michael's done," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We like Jose enough that we felt that was a good move for us."

Though McKenry would be considered the favorite to win the job over Morales, the Pirates have had their eye on acquiring Morales at various points over the last two years. After appearing in 22 games for Colorado last season, Morales became a free agent when the Rockies took him off their roster in early October.

He made 17 starts behind the plate and played second base twice. Morales' season ended in June when he sustained a right thumb fracture and had to undergo season-ending surgery. He hit .267 in that brief stint with the Rockies.

A third-round pick in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, Morales made his Major League debut with Minnesota in 2007. He appeared in just one big league game that season and didn't make it back to the Majors until '09. In 96 Major League games, Morales has a .289 batting average, .365 on-base percentage, 12 doubles and 21 RBIs.

He has thrown out 34 percent of attempted basestealers. While most of Morales' playing time in the Minors also came as a catcher, he does have experience playing all four infield positions.

Morales offers the Pirates a switch-hitting option, which could work nicely alongside right-handed-hitting Rod Barajas. Huntington noted that Morales probably has a bit more offensive upside than McKenry, who would be considered the better defender of the two.

The Pirates have now handed out non-roster invites to Spring Training to six players.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.