First Pitch: The Idea of Extending Cervelli and Melancon’s Trade Value

Before the Pirates signed Russell Martin, they offered him a three-year deal, which he turned down in order to reach free agency a year earlier. The move looks to have paid off in a big way. Based on his 2015 season, he probably would have still landed a huge deal this off-season. But he would have been playing one more season at an $8.5 M a year rate, rather than inking that $17.5 M a year contract a year earlier.

As a result, the Pirates only got Martin for two years, then had to find a replacement for him after he moved out of their price range. Fortunately, it worked out for them, as they landed Francisco Cervelli in a trade last year, getting their new catcher for two years at a very cheap price, and watching him match Martin’s value last year.

Today a rumor came out that the Pirates have discussed an extension with Cervelli. No details were revealed, so we can’t really discuss the type of deal. However, I’d have to say that this approach makes sense under the right circumstances.

Cervelli is coming off a big year, and the first season that he really stuck it out the full year as a starting catcher. Granted, he hasn’t had many opportunities in the past with the Yankees, being stuck behind Russell Martin and Brian McCann. Yet there’s still some uncertainty here. Was this just a fluke, or was it Cervelli finally breaking out?

The Pirates are in a situation where Cervelli’s price could be determined by the answer to that question. If they extend Cervelli now, they’re probably going to get a cheaper price, due to the fact that there are still questions, and Cervelli would otherwise be due about $2.5 M through arbitration. On the other hand, if they wait and Cervelli has another good season in 2016, they’re looking at another Martin situation, where a talented catcher could walk via free agency.

So do you gamble that Cervelli’s 2015 season was legit, and buy in before the price gets too high again?

Offensively, I feel that Cervelli could repeat his 2015 numbers. He had a .295/.370/.401 line, which isn’t far off his .284/.357/.389 career line. His BABIP of .359 was a bit higher than his career .341, but not to a significant degree. His walk rate was also slightly higher — 9.0% vs 8.5% — and his isolated power was about the same. Granted, he had 510 plate appearances last year, and that makes up about 40% of his career totals. He posted similar numbers the year before, and while a two year span gives confidence, you’re also looking at a small sample size when you combine the seasons, with just 672 plate appearances.

Defensively, Cervelli had issues throwing out runners, but I place more of that problem on the pitching staff. He was excellent at working with the pitching staff, and did a great job with his pitch framing, ranking as one of the best in the league.

There is the issue of Elias Diaz, although that could turn into an advantage for the Pirates. Chris Stewart is eligible for free agency following the 2016 season, and the Pirates would be best letting him walk and calling up Diaz at that point, if he’s not up already as an injury replacement in 2016. The Pirates could use a combo of Diaz and Cervelli in 2017, and then if Diaz shows he’s ready to start, move on from Cervelli after that season. It would give them a bit of a safety net with Diaz, and could lead to a great catching combo.

The flip side to all of this is that Cervelli could get hurt, or could see his numbers slip, or Diaz could show he’s ready in 2016 and show that the extension wasn’t necessary.

I think that a smaller deal would make sense here, as it would mitigate the risk, while adding some security at the catching position. And if Cervelli shows that last year was legit, then the Pirates could end up with a steal, depending on the terms of such a deal.

**I’ve mentioned several times that I think Mark Melancon will get a big return on the trade market, despite having one year and a projected $10 M remaining before he hits free agency. Aside from how good Melancon is, a big reason I think he’ll get a good deal is due to the lack of free agent options on the market, and Melancon having a good shot at landing a compensation pick following the 2016 season.

Ken Rosenthal had an interesting look at the market, which adds another aspect here.

Why the sudden willingness to move such talents?

One exec said it’s not because teams no longer value relievers, the most volatile of baseball species. Quite the contrary; teams want to mimic the Royals, who rode the strength of their bullpen to two straight AL titles and a World Series title this season.

Another exec said the surplus of closer types on the trade market is a reflection of a shortage on the free-agent market. Circumstances play a role, too; Chapman and Melancon, for example, are entering their free-agent years.

I’ve seen a lot of speculation that the Pirates wouldn’t get a good return because of other good relievers on the market. There’s also the idea that teams are getting wise, and that’s why you’re seeing relievers getting traded, with the extra relievers on the market expected to drive the price down.

Rosenthal’s rumor suggests that the opposite could be true. In an attempt to copy the Royals, teams will be going after top relievers, which means you could see several teams seeking out the top guys, and not just 1-2 teams that would make the seller’s market a game of musical chairs. The desire to be like the Royals could also drive the prices up, as teams place a higher value on top relievers.

I’m all for the Royals model, and feel a top bullpen is very important. But I think the Pirates can assemble one without paying big, and I think they could capitalize on other teams who want to take shortcuts to a successful bullpen in the meantime.

**Bucs, Beers, and Bites: The Arizona Fall League Edition. Had fun with this new feature, and it got a good response. I’ll probably do it again in the future, just to mix things up a bit from the normal routine.

**Andrew McCutchen Wins Fourth Straight Silver Slugger Award. I’ve written that he shouldn’t be in center field already this off-season. But one thing is certain — no matter where he plays, the man can hit a baseball.

**Pirates Listening to Offers on Numerous Players, Considering Cervelli Extension. The Cervelli rumor, along with rumors that they’re listening on all of the guys with one year remaining on their deals.

**AFL: Command Issues For Dickson, Meadows Leaves Team Early. One week to go in the AFL season. I’ll have an article up tomorrow on one of the pitchers at the level.

**Winter Leagues: Debut For Elias Diaz, Rojas Homers. Speaking of Elias Diaz, he made his debut in winter ball this week.

  • clint hurdle why don’t you try some ing new with mark melancon and watson by let mark be for ore tony comes out

  • swutch these two me aroudn bring markmelanconin for the eith and let to close the gaome

  • 17,million dooolars waitining for him

  • please bring markmelancon back to the pirates and never ever tradehim ever again and whenit is time for him to re tire let him 17 mm

  • will you pleease bring melancon back soon than later he has a good fan in grafton and i might be able to work with on the problems he is having if you will bring him to the pirates and let me know when he back

  • neil huntington if you don’t return markmelancon back to the pirates where he belong and if you trad him again with out asking the publidce if it is oakay to trade markmelancon

  • HUGE news becomes official…Kimbrel to Boston for 4, yes FOUR, prospects and TWO top 100 prospects: Manuel Margot (25), Javier Guerra (76), Logan Allen, and Carlos Asuaje.

    If the Pirates could get even half that value for Melancon it’s worth it to trade him. Margot and Guerra are both very good pospects.

  • I thought we were going to talk about trade value…..

  • Tim, It would seem very reasonable to non-tender Stewart and bring up Diaz, he can catch a couple of games a week, get some pinch hit exposure, and work with the pitchers.
    Same thing with Keon Broxton, he plays some, becomes a good 4th outfielder, and brings some much needed speed. He will be better than Snider.
    I still think the Pirates will make a big move in the infield. I would not be surprised if the Pirates look for an upgrade at shortstop and move Mercer to a utility role. He can play 2nd, short, and even third. If Bell has a good spring with at least decent defense I would bring him up north. Integrating some youth and athleticism on this team makes sense . Of course the pitching staff needs a lot of work very intriguing offseason.

  • As much as I dislike Huntington’s affinity for quantity over quality trades, it does look like the Red Sox are primed for exactly this type of move…again.

    Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, Anthony Varvano, Pat Light, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, Devin Marrero, Travis Shaw, Garin Cecchini, Simon Mercedes are all either on the 40-man or Rule 5 eligible guys that don’t really have much of a home in the Red Sox organization for 2016, and for most of them even beyond that.

    Combine those guys with veterans like Joe Kelly, Clay Bucholtz, Wade Miley, and Ryan Hannigan who may find their role upgraded this winter and you can put together – on paper – a pretty good package without necessarily including a top prospect for Mark Melancon.

    • Very good point. I’d love to grab Joe Kelly if possible and turn him into reliever. Keith Law has always thought he fits best as a closer.

      • This posts makes me think NH and his staff will be searching internally and externally at cheap SP’s for bullpen positions. Going the Wade Davis route may be how Pirates choose to copy Royals. Then again they’ve been doing that for a while w good results (Wilson, Hughes, Watson).

      • I would be happy with Kelly.

    • I really feel thats the trade we will see with Melancon. Possibly him and another prospect for 3,4 prospects/blocked players. It will upset people like myself, but there’s a chance they get a player or two back that could contribute.

      This is what they do.

      • It is what they do; they just haven’t been terribly successful doing it.

        You figure the goal of the quantity trades like, hell, pretty much every one we’ve seen Huntington make is to hit on multiple pieces. McLouth might be the only one that’s actually worked out reasonably well in that regard.

        Definition of insanity, I know I know, but it would be awful tempting to go after it once again and hope for the best.

        • I just dont agree at all with Tim, that some team is going to fork over a top prospect for 1 year of a volatile reliever.

          • I do think he made a really good point above regarding teams looking like they’re planning to build multiple closer-types into the back end of their bullpens, but I also think that opens up a lot more possibilities than *just* closers.

            If a team that already has a closer targets Melancon for a set-up role it’s doubtful they’d be terribly impressed with his save numbers, and that’s really the only thing that stands out in his profile. I think he’s undervalued in the relief world because he isn’t the guy that dominates by missing bats.

            I was prepared to be underwhelmed when it became obvious the Pirates were going to trade Hanrahan, and while Melancon is the better pitcher, I feel like the expected return is also much, much higher.

            • I’m not sure, but I believe Hanrahan had 2years of control, not one.

              Plus after watching him break, factoring in Melancons usage the last three years, I could understand some reservations on the health too. April velocity drop, increasing reliance on the cut FB as well.

      • That is what makes that type of deal hard to take….”a CHANCE they get a player or two back that COULD contribute.

        • I didnt say Id like it. I just think this is the most plausible outcome.

          Think about how many trades that team has made the last 5 years and your first reaction was “Who?”

        • If they trade MM, they also free up the money they’d pay him otherwise. So, the return doesn’t have to be > Melancon, it just has to be > Melancon – $10M_FA. (Happ? Latos? Soria + 3/4 of Bastardo ?)

    • I’d love for the Pirates to get their hands on Buckholtz…regardless if it’s rational on their part, don’t know how open the Sox would be to trade for a guy they lost bad on in a previous exchange.

    • Looks like you were right about the Red Sox.

    • IMO, Matt Barmes would be a good bullpen add. His star flamed out a bit as a ToR starter, but he’s got velocity and an out pitch and could profile as a back end guy if Watson takes the closer role.

      But as a UConn guy, I’m biased. I keep thinking Mike Olt will pop 30 HRs.

  • maybe the league knows that the pirates are not willing to pay a closer 10 million, so they view him as a salary dump.

    • PGH may be averse to spending that much on a closer, but i think its fair to point out that not willing and not in favor of are two different things.

      I find it hard to imagine PGH will move Melancon no matter what this offseason, just because of his salary.

  • Just wanted to say thanks for great topics and conversation the last few weeks. Truly have enjoyed the product and interactions with everyone.

    Now for why Tim’s completely wrong…just kidding. 😉

    When the Pirates think about paying Cervelli past his arbitrated years, I think they have to take a very honest look at his underlying skills and ask themselves not if, but how much his BABIP will regress. Because it most certainly will.

    He’s not a particularly fast runner, doesn’t hit a particularly high percentage of line drives, and does not hit the ball particularly hard. All of the skills that have been correlated with consistent high BABIP hitters, Cervelli would not appear to have.

    That’s high BABIP hitters. BABIP’s over .350, which propelled Cervelli’s offense in 2015 aren’t high, they’re extreme. And his 2016 projection shows just how big of a deal this is, as he’s projected to be only roughly a league average hitter while *still* posting a BABIP 25 points above average.

    I simply don’t think this is the skill set you commit money to for a catcher in his 30s, especially when you’ll have a similarly skilled prospect ready for a Major League shot.

    • To me it really depends on how long of a extension we are looking at here. Signing him for another season beyond this one with a team option for 2018? Yea sign me up. Longer than that not convinced.

    • I am not a fan of a Cervelli extension unless it’s AAV of $5M or less. Because Diaz is ready and we have McGuire behind him…we don’t need an expensive 30 year old, injury-prone BABIP catcher.

  • Slightly off topic but got me thinking about pitching and depth. Their have been so many Tommy John pitchers recently in the past two years, can we get a list of them and their current progress/time frame of return. Thanks if you do.

  • If we can’t get anything good for MM, then keep him, QO him and at least get a draft pick for him.

    And, if Cervelli won’t do an extension, same thing….keep him, QO him and at least get a draft pick for him.

    • Eddie: I think Cervelli will do an extension. Again it will depend on if management negotiates and not throw out a number and move on. I still think MM should be kept. Reduce the number of question marks going into spring training and focus on winning a division. You look at some of the money wasted on drafts and acquisitions (Sanchez, Hart, Liz) – I can’t believe they would not commit one more year to MM.

      • Okay- help me out here. We need to shed payroll, we have a farm FULL of catcher talent which will come at league minimum for YEARS. Diaz is ready for the major leagues already now- Explain here how giving a catcher we don’t need- more money helps this team in the future? All it does is keep us from spending that money in an area where we actually HAVE NO DEPTH!

        • What catching depth do the Bucs have from 2016-18? If Cervelli leaves after 2016, who’s behind Diaz – who would have one season as a backup? McGuire won’t get to Pittsburgh before 2018, and even then not likely until mid-season.

          I’d hardly call C a position of depth at the MLB level.

          • Not at the major league level, but signing a backup catcher is NOT costly. No team uses the idea of holding down a ready MLB starting catcher because they need catching depth. You hoard BACKUP quality catchers, not overpay for a starting catcher when you have one to take over……you want depth, go sign another chris stewart, or AAAA catcher, there’s only 100 in the market.

      • ireall agree withyou on keppin markmelancon

    • Ive told NMR this before, I wish we had another year to evaluate him. So much of this past season with him was career highs/outlier type stuff. Lot of risk involved depending on the figures.

      • One point i dont think brought up enough is how willing Cervelli would be to an extension at this point. Sure he takes a risk by staying on his current deal and maybe getting injured/regressing, but its a similar risk Martin took when he preferred a 2 year deal to a 3 year deal with PGH.

        Cervelli may well prefer to play out next year and hit FA.

        • If I was his agent, that’s what i would tell him. I think next to Perez, he would be one of the better catchers available.

          • Absolutely, particularly if he has another oddly good BABIP year where he keeps his AVG up.

          • Help me out…Salvador Perez? There’s a 100% certainly KC picks up each and every one of his three ridiculously cheap option year.

            Cervelli just got hurt by Matt Wieters taking a QO. Immediately becomes the best catcher available.

            • That was a quicker gander at MLB trade rumors. Not a research paper on KCs future payroll commitments. 🙂

          • If I was his spouse, I’d say take 3 years $30M and we never have to worry about money again.

        • Martin had already a very well established career at that point and was coming off a horrible year- not exactly an apples to apples comparison

          • Coming off multiple down years with teams not yet over valuing defense.

            He was down enough that NY lowballed him and let him walk. Not a perfect comparison, but if anything it goes to my point. Both guys likely feel undervalued and as such avoided taking a long term crap deal and banked on their talents netting big deal.

            Cervelli has more reason to avoid a smaller 3 year deal, if he trust his stuff.

            • It’s two completely unparallel non-related situations Luke, period. Cervelli can’t feel undervalued since he’s literally never done anything before 2015.

    • LF
      For once – or maybe it is twice we are agreed…
      Cervelli in particular – I took a couple of course in game theory and the Pirates are in good positions with both guys.

      Cervelli is going to be a very cheap starting 3+ WAR catcher next year – if he stays healthy he will be in line for McAnn/Martin style multiyear deal – so you QO him and get back a draft pick – Cervelli and his people know this – so would you trade the risk of an injury for the certainty of a 3-4 year deal at say $25-$30M – it would make sense for the Bucs – and probably Cervelli.

      Melancon is tougher – but if he has a great year next year you can QO him and get a pick – should he – god forbid – implode you waive goodby and move on. Of course if Arizona is willing to trade us Goldschmidt for MM straight up you jump on the deal – and they are a mess at both SS and 2nd so you throw in Mercer, Walker and Hanson if you have too to make it happen

      • JoseGuillensArm
        November 13, 2015 8:30 pm

        If Arizona made a Melancon for Goldschmidt trade straight up or even with the three other players you suggest, the entire front office of Arizona would be out of baseball the next day…keep dreaming

  • Not sure what would constitute the “Royals model” but sounds like pretty lofty goal and also not sure what one would consider “not paying big”. But one thing I’m confused on is the narrative that the Pirates and NH always build great bullpens on the cheap. Let’s just deal with the quality of the bullpen the last five years in the NL. I’m using FIP but people can use any use stat they want (XFIP, WAR, ERA and I don’t think you will see huge difference)

    2011 FIP 9 out of 16
    2012 FIP 8 out of 16
    2013 FIP 4 out of 15
    2014 FIP 12 out of 15
    2015 FIP 2 out of 15

    Very good in 2013 and 2015, other years middle of the pack and frankly pretty bad in 2014. Keep in mind a lot of the guys who made it so good this past year were not cheap options. As far as guys who pitched more than 10 innings 4 out of 5 top guys in terms of FIP were Soria, MM, Watson and Bastardo. None of these guys were “cheap finds” this past year. Sure they got MM a few years ago but they were paying a nice chunk of change to him this past year. Soria we took on a lot of salary and paid Bastardo about 2M. The only big time cheap producer this year was Blanton. Scahill and Caminero were not great producers. Replacement level between the 2 of them

    • Yes I agree. Sometimes the perception is not quite the result.

      • Yes to me the only year I can point to where I’d say they built a cheap, elite bullpen was 2013. They got great production from Melancon that year, Watson, Wilson, Mazzaro, Jeanmar(to lesser extent) and basically all those guys were cheap. While this past year was great I wouldn’t consider the guys who essentially made it great cheap. Blanton was great find but most of the real contributors were established guys well into their arb years or making a nice salary(Soria)

        • Very sharp analysis JohnW and your stats back it up. The Pirates bullpen was not consistently “great’ over the last five years and it wasn’t cheap last year. If Melancon is traded I do not believe Watson will be as effective….particularly against RH batters.

          • Thank you Michael.

          • Imo Watson is better against RH batters do to his great change up, maybe I should look at the numbers, but his sinker in change up out is what has made him a top reliever. His slider against lefties is average at best.

            • I believe Melancon has the better breaking ball that is so tough on both RH and LH hitters. Watson fastball to RH bats sometimes makes me cringe.

              • agree with you about mark melancon and i want him back in the pipittsburghpirates uiform

            • It WOULD be average, if he ever threw it. He has release point problems, has his whole career, very similar to Liriano. He lets go on average at least two fastballs per inning which would nearly decapitate a lefty hitter, and as a lefty pitcher I used to have the same problem so i understand it

          • Watson is not good at all against lefties….his command is awful. Somehow he gets away with it against righties

            • It is a BIG risk to go into the season with Watson and only Watson available for the late innings.

              • I don’t mind Hughes in the 7th inning, but i really don’t want watson closing- at all. I don’t care what Tim says. He isn’t a closer, he doesn’t have the makeup for it, and i hope i don’t have to show i’m right. I’d rather us get a young arm back in a Melancon trade whom is ready for that opportunity but is unproven.

                • the pirates should get rid of watson anx bring mark melancon back for nex t five year and raise is salary to twelve millon dollarars

    • “I’m all for the Royals model, and feel a top bullpen is very important. But I think the Pirates can assemble one without paying big”

      Where the heck is all the cheap, but effective bullpen help coming from?

      • I think the most damning failure of early Huntington-era drafting and development isn’t so much that they haven’t produced top of the rotation arm(s) or even back end starters, it’s that they haven’t even been able to add cheap, pre-arb arms to the pen. Justin Wilson, while hardly anything special, showed that there’s very real value in failed starters as long as they at least develop enough to be respectable bullpen arms for a financially-challenged team like the Pirates.

        The Pirates have proven that they can find cheap, good bullpen arms. They have, and nobody can take that away from them. But they have far from proven that they can find enough of them at one time to build a top unit by today’s standards. Going to be very, very difficult to get better by subtraction with no help coming from the farm.

    • Bill W…Bob Smizik was on the same train as you. He voiced that opinion for years.

      Good stuff!

  • It’s good to listen to trade offers on MM, but this period between the WS and the GM meetings is bargain hunting by most.

    • that is true and we want mark melancon back whrre he belongs with the pittsburgh pirates

  • i hope you’re right Tim. May suit Pirates interests to wait and let Chapman and Kimbrall get traded first in order to let losers fight over Melancon.