Francisco Cervelli Open to an Extension With the Pirates

Travis Sawchik of the Trib reports that Francisco Cervelli is open to an extension with the Pirates, following the catcher’s big season as the starter in 2015. Sawchik cites a source that says a three-year, $13 M deal would get it done, but that Cervelli is still waiting for the club to begin dialogue. Back in December, Sean McCool reported that Cervelli hadn’t been approached about an extension yet.

It’s not a surprise that Cervelli would be open to an extension, or that a three-year, $13 M deal would get it done. But you’d have to wonder if the deal would make sense for the Pirates.

Cervelli is coming off a huge year where he posted a 3.8 WAR as the starter for the Pirates. If we go with $7 M per WAR, then he needs about half of that value to justify such an extension.

The 2015 season was successful for Cervelli for many reasons. His offense was solid for a catcher, his defense was strong, and most importantly, he stayed healthy. I think that the first two trends will continue going forward. The third trend is up in the air.

Cervelli has a pretty big injury history prior to the 2015 season. He stayed healthy in 2015, and part of that might have been due to the fact that the Pirates have done a great job keeping their players fresh and healthy the last few years. But even if he does miss time, he’d be very valuable in the time he is healthy, and if he maintains last year’s pace, he’d only need half a season of play to get enough value for the deal.

The other factor here is the farm system. The Pirates have Elias Diaz in Triple-A, ready to take over when Cervelli leaves. Diaz features some of the best defense in the minors, and has some good hitting skills with the same offensive upside Cervelli has. Optimistically, the Pirates could get the same value from Diaz for about $12.5 M less per year. Realistically, Diaz should be worth a few wins for his defense and pitch framing alone, although he might not match the 3.8 WAR that Cervelli put up in 2015.

So who do the Pirates gamble on? Do they gamble that Cervelli’s 2015 season was the real deal? If so, that 3/$39 M price would look like a steal going forward. If he doesn’t match the 2015 numbers, it could look like a huge waste of money with Diaz ready. Then there’s the gamble with Diaz, which is just your basic gamble of going with a prospect. In this case, I don’t think there’s an issue of his defense translating over to the majors, and the main concern would be whether the offensive skills translate to the game, and how soon that happens.

This is a situation the Pirates haven’t really encountered much. They’ve got a guy coming off a huge year, with a chance to sign him on a deal that could end up being a steal, but also could end up being a waste of money. The latter would be true if the prospect they have in Triple-A comes up and performs as expected, while the guy in the majors fails to repeat his breakout season. You could easily see the decision going either way, which is what makes this an interesting choice.

If the Pirates did extend Cervelli, they’d basically be trying to buy certainty behind the plate. With the recent extension of Chris Stewart, they’d have their catching duo together for the next few years. That would leave Diaz as a strong depth option, or a good trade chip. The latter would make sense after a year or two, since Reese McGuire would be arriving in Triple-A at some point in 2017, and would eventually take over for Cervelli in the majors. It’s also possible that Diaz ends up working out, at which point the Pirates could deal one of Cervelli or Stewart, and bring Diaz up to replace them, with McGuire in Triple-A.

No matter what, the Pirates are set to have some great defensive catching behind the plate for years to come. The only question is how much do they want to spend to try and give themselves the best shot at the total package of value behind the plate?

  • If 3/13 mil is true how do you not just do that as long as there is not a no trade clause? If Cervelli drops to a 2 WAR guy he would still be easily traded if the prospects come through.

  • I think the rumored money wherever it came from it too much. I think Cervelli only puts himself in that range with another solid 500 at bats. Looking at recent free agent catcher signings there is McCann and Martin in the $80 million range than a big gap to Ruiz at $26 million. Looking at extensions it is Posey’s 150 million, Molina at $75 million and Montero at $60 million.

    I don’t think Cervelli has the track record to warrant that amount of guarantee, he is an elite framer, but the Pirates shouldn’t be paying for this and average-ish in the other defensive areas. And I think his true talent offensive is closer to league average than 2015’s performance.

    If he preforms well in 2016, qualifying offer then go from there.

  • I like the idea of extending Cervelli and then whenever Diaz makes the jump, having them compete for playing time. The Stewart extension allows them to not rush into anything. And if/when you’re comfortable with Cervelli/Diaz, flip Stewart. Good defensive backup definitively has trade value.

  • See the comments, not sure I agree with any. Per Tim, issue is if signing Cervelli at whatever negotiated number is a good deal, then the Pirates should try to get it done. There are four scenarios for Cervelli, keep him for this year, keep him until mid-season and trade him, keep him for the year and let him go for nothing, or keep him and give him a qualifying offer. I guess a fifth would be this extension talk.
    I feel this is about building assets. Just because NH signs him to a three year extension doesn’t mean we would keep him for three additional years. Any good player signed to a short term, good value contract, especially at a premium position, has great value.
    If NH can get good contract value, sign him. If we end up with three really good catchers, good for NH, as he has assets to trade to continue to rebuild the farm system.
    I see similar to CarGo from the Rockies. At his original deal, can’t quote off the top of my head, but thought was crazy number, over a $100 million commitment. But 2 year commitment for $37 million for a star player in his prime? No player would ever sign that deal. This now is a short term deal to a really good player, who if he regresses does not crush your payroll interminably. Same applies to Cervelli, not as good a player, but value argument the same.
    I know this concept doesn’t feel great because we become attached to the players we like and want them to stay forever, me included. But it is business and is the business of baseball, IMO.

    • i would rather we do with option 2 or 4. Too much money that we should be looking to utilize for pitching or extension of core players. Diaz is right around the corner and we need him coming up when Tallion, Glasnow, Kingman and others make their way to the show.

  • We are not going to extend Cervelli. And, since they are going to wait to see if last year was an aberration, he will get too expensive if it wasn’t.

    Therefore, expect them to QO him, get a comp pick and start Diaz next year.

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      January 28, 2016 9:40 am

      Agreed….and I hope you are right. One very good year does not justify a $40m investment – especially given his past…
      Cervelli far exceeded my expectations in 2015, but he is not without flaws – the biggest being his extremely low percentage of throwing out baserunners (and no, I don’t buy that its all the pitchers fault)….we need improvement in that area.

      • 40M investment? How does 3 yrs/13M = 40M ?

        All players have flaws, Martin included….Cervelli had the better WAR of the 2 players last year.

    • 100% agree with this. Diaz is catching Glasnow, Tallion, Kingman and others who will be the rotation later this year and for the next few years. Cervelli will have a good year netting us a comp pick. No reason to have prospects if we are going to extend players when replacements are ready.

  • Tim last night… 😉 Lookin’ good!

  • I would prefer they do something creative with Cervelli involving this year’s contract. For instance, rip up this year’s contract and give him $10 million per year for three years starting in 2016. That reduces the commitment to 2 extra years, gives us Stewart and Diaz as back ups in 2016/2017, aligns with McGuire’s arrival in 2018 (?), Cervelli gets immediate security rather than waiting for the year to play out, and even a little more money in the first three years than the proposed contract ($30 vs $29.5)

  • I like an extension if they are actually working on such a contract. Stewart is a serviceable back-up but nothing to excited about. Diaz is a prospect and would like to see his development continue. A lot has been said about Cervelli’s health as a factor not to extend but has anyone factored the PBC system of keeping players healthy and on the field? Maybe that is a reason why he played all season last year.

  • I think the Pirates have already showed where they plan on going with this. By all accounts I have read, they refused to include Diaz in a trade for an upgrade at 1B. That tells me that they have no intention of moving him, if that is the case, then Cervelli is as good as gone.

    Also, where did Sawchik get those numbers? Is that something Cervelli said, or something he thought up. It would make no sense at all for Cervelli to actually say that. Which makes me think it is just some made up number that Sawchik thinks sounds good, for whatever reason.

    It is a good problem to have though.

    • I wouldn’t assume there was Diaz for Moreland talk. I think it’s more likely that the Rangers were interested in Diaz and the Pirates were interested in Moreland without there being trade discussions involving those two.

    • FWIW, Sawchik’s article says those numbers are “according to a source”.

    • Being uninterested in Diaz for Moreland talks doesnt really prove they arent trading him at all. Too many other factors come into play to make that conclusion (like PGH potentially just not really valuing Moreland that high to begin with).

      If someone rang and told NH they’d take Diaz for a mid rotation SP with years of control left, he’s not for sure gonna just hang up.

  • Daniel Bartoli
    January 27, 2016 11:27 pm

    It’s kind of funny how the fans are reacting to this story. Two years ago, everyone was screaming that we needed to pay Martin that much but now a younger, possibly much better offensively Cervelli isnt worth that kind of deal? It’s a really nice problem for NH to have to deal with. We haven’t had this kind of talent on the big club and on the way through the system at a position for a very long time.

    • The Martin situation was just as complex. It made sense to extend him up to a certain point, as they didn’t have any replacements available, and it would be hard for their replacements to match his production. But if the deal got to an extreme point in years, it might not make sense to bring him back.

      This is a bit different. In this case, there is someone who can replace Cervelli, but the question is whether he can match his production, and whether Cervelli can even match his own 2015 season. No answer for either of those yet.

      • Tim, see above – Diaz does not have to MATCH Cervelli – he will be earning less than $1M for the first few years and the is value that can be deployed elsewhere to fill other needs.

    • The difference being, Martin was a known established talent. Cervelli had a great year while avoiding injuries for the first time in his career. Another factor not to be dismissed, is the quality of depth behind him in the highest levels of the minors. Having two of the top ten prospects behind him complicates the matter. That was not the case when Martin was leaving.

    • Other than the fact that Cervelli is most certainly *not* better offensively or defensively and can’t hold a candle to Martin’s track record, yeah sure, same thing.

      • Statistically, they were pretty even defensively last season. Will that hold up? No idea.

      • I wanted the Pirates to extend Cervelli, but I thought that 3/30 being the high end of that number for him. To me he’s not a 13 million dollar catcher. Not right now, he’s not. He’s had one good, healthy season. His track record has yet to show he would be worth that kind of money in my opinion. Now if he has another good season this year, then sure. He could justify that kind of money more likely. But right now, to me he’s worth an extension at somewhere between 7 to 10 million per. If Cervelli’s agent is holding hard at around 13 mil per, then there’s no way an extension gets done with Diaz and McGuire in the system.

      • C’mon folks – Martin did not repeat his final year [or his first year] in Pittsburgh for the Jays. Regression is a fact of life…
        Here are the Fangraphs WAR #s for the last 3 years – 2 in Pitt one in Toronto
        and the defense was off – DRS for the same period
        Yes HRs were up – but that is the ballpark – not the player.
        BTW Corvalli’s WAR last year – 3.8

        One thing a team like the Pirates can’t – won’t do is tie up the kind of money Cervelli is supposed to be [should be?] looking for when there are less expensive alternatives. Diaz does not have to match Frankies WAR – he just has to be better than replacement value since he will be earning MLB minimums for the near term,

        I consider the situation with Melancon an aberration – he will be gone next year freeing up the $10M and the Bucs will be weighing offers for him at the trade deadline if they are 3rd in the Division and 6th or 7th in the Wild Card chase.

    • Martin’s talent and the way he handles himself professionally makes this a completely ridiculous comparison. Despite Cervelli’s positive value to the pirates, I just cannot stand the way he carries himself or handles himself on the field with his ridiculous theatrics and also the way he constantly shows up umpires. Luke and I have argued about him a ton, i realize his value, but it’s nowhere near the value of Russell offensively defensively, or professionally

  • Tim – what would Diaz’s value be as a trade chip right now?

    • I’m guessing a Grade B hitting prospect. That was around $5-6 M in the old study, but has to have gone up a bit by now.

      • Would the extension buy out this season with 2018 being the final year of the contract or begin next season with 2019 being the final year?

        • Probably a true extension, paying for 2017-2019. He’s already making $3.5 M this year. I can’t see the Pirates giving him an extra $10 M for only two more years. That would essentially be a two year extension, paying him an additional $18-19 M per year.