The Pirates added Ryan Church on a one-year contract on Tuesday that will pay the outfielder a 1.5 million dollar base salary which could reach up to 2.8 million if all plate appearance-based incentives are reached. Church should become the team’s 4th outfielder and could compete for an outfield starting spot, depending on the status of Garrett Jones and Brandon Moss. Church has shown potential, as he posted a 3-win season in 2007 as a member of the Nationals, with a 116 wRC+ and plus defense in the outfield. His loss of power and injuries made him only a one-win player last year, with time split between Atlanta and the New York Mets.
Church was one of the more interesting non-tender candidates of this offseason. He’s always been a decent on-base player, but his power has fallen off the map since a stellar 2006 season in which he posted a .250 ISO. Now, he’s coming off a .111 ISO season and injuries have been a major problem. Luckily, the Pirates don’t need Church to be even an average player for this deal to work – Church is a virtual lock to be worth 1.5 million dollars, and on a one-year deal, it would be hard for this move to make any sort of dent into the Pirates’ future.
Church is a perfect fit for a a rebuilding team like the Pirates. He’s not going to steal time from a prospect – Jose Tabata certainly isn’t ready for a major league role. Also, he does have some upside if his power returns – his HR/FB rate was 4.0% last year, unsustainable for a player with a career rate around 12%. Church won’t be a star – he is already 31 and improvement from him at this point in his career isn’t terribly likely – but at worst he’s a useful role player. He projects as roughly average as a hitter and as a corner outfielder, so worth roughly 1.2 wins per 150 games. It is also important to note that the Pirates also hold control over one more arbitration year, as Church only has roughly 4.1 years of MLB service time, according to Cot’s Contracts.
Finally, the addition of Church should make Rick Ankiel unnecessary. Ankiel’s name has been linked to the Pirates on multiple occasions, and Ankiel does not make sense for Pittsburgh. He’s not as good a hitter as he showed in 2008 nor as bad as he showed in 2009 – he’s probably somewhere near an average hitter, much like Church – but Ankiel is over five years of MLB service and thus will have no more arbitration years. Not only that, but Ankiel’s power reputation (47 HR in the last 3 years, including one year with 26) would likely garner him a larger payday than Church. All in all, Ankiel is a similar player to Church, but Ankiel is likely to be overvalued by this market while the Pirates got a steal on Church.
Ryan Church has been unlucky in recent years, to say the least. The aftereffects of concussions have nearly derailed his career. Personally, as somebody who has suffered from post-concussion syndrome, it makes me happy to see Church get another major league opportunity with Pittsburgh, and it’s likely that Neal Huntington and the Pirates will be happy with their investment as well.