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Perrotto: Why Pirates are Taking Chance on Domingo German

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Domingo German, Pittsburgh Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. – My initial reaction was to cringe.

The Pittsburgh Pirates signed right-hander Domingo German to a minor-league contract over the weekend with an invitation to major-league spring training. The deal also includes a club option for 2025.

While the Pirates assume almost no risk by signing German, his checkered past is concerning.

Maybe.

During his six-year career, all with the New York Yankees, German has been suspended for 81 games for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. He has also been docked 10 games by the league for applying an illegal substance to baseballs. German also ended last season on the restricted list while undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse at an in-patient facility.

From a pitching standpoint, it is understandable why the Pirates would be interested in German at a bargain price. He will be paid $1.25 million this season if he makes the major-league club, and the Pirates hold an option for 2025 at just $2.25 million.

And the Pirates certainly need starting pitching, Two rotation spots are open beyond opening-day starter Mitch Keller and left-handers Martin Perez and Marco Gonzales.

It would be hard to sign any pitcher on that kind of deal. German had an 18-4 record in 2019 and pitched the 24th perfect game in Major League Baseball history last year.

Yet it is hard to ignore German’s off-the-field baggage that is enough to clog the conveyor belts at Pittsburgh International Airport. So, I couldn’t help but wonder why the Pirates would want to bother with him.

Then I dug deeper and found more about German from people around the Yankees. Everyone I talked to or corresponded with in the last two days said he is lovable – his transgressions notwithstanding.

They say all of German’s problems stem from drinking. It played the primary role in the domestic violence suspension and sparked a clubhouse commotion last season that led to German getting help for his drinking problem.

“He’s the sweetest guy in the world – until he starts drinking,” one Yankees person told me. “He becomes a completely different person. If he can stay clean, the Pirates are going to get a good pitcher – and a good person. He has his demons, but his heart is really in the right place.”

German, 31, went 5-7 with a 4.56 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) last year. His career record is 31-28 with a 4.41 ERA in 112 games (97 starts). How much better his stat line would be if he had stayed clean is impossible to calculate.

Pirates people tell me German has been vetted more thoroughly than any player acquired since Ben Cherington became general manager following the 2019 season.  and “It’s not even close.” It has made clear that he will likely be released if he falls out of line.

I have never met German, so I obviously can’t speak from personal experience.

However, the people I have talked to who know him insist he is worth giving a second chance. Or in this case, a third chance.

These are people I trust. If they are willing to vouch for German, I can confidently soften my initial stance on him.

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