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.
Francisco Cervelli said that he has not been approached about a possible contract extension yet. #Pirates
— Sean McCool (@NotSoMcCool) December 12, 2015
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?