Could the Russell Martin Timeline Repeat With Francisco Cervelli?

BRADENTON, Fl. – The Pirates believed that Francisco Cervelli had the skills to hit and be a good starter when they went out and acquired him last year. They felt he just needed the opportunity.

“That’s what we felt when we went out and got him,” Pirates’ Manager Clint Hurdle said. “We felt we’d get him on the field, keep him healthy, playable. The at-bats would add up. The defense would add up. He posted up over 130 times, which is an incredible amount based on what he had done before. There might be some manager error there. We might have played him too much.”

Cervelli looked forward to the opportunity as well, finally able to fulfill his dream of being a starter in the majors. He had strong numbers in 2014 as a backup, and always had strong defense, but never really was able to show what he could do over a full season.

“I think that was a key, just play everyday,” Cervelli said. “You look in the past, it’s less games, but the same numbers. I’m always working to have consistency, and then [have a lot of playing time], and it just feels great.”

While I’d say that Cervelli was never able to show what he could do over a full season, I think it would be inaccurate to say that he was never given a chance. He was named the starter for the Yankees in 2013, after Russell Martin left the team for the Pirates. However, he suffered a fractured right hand in April that year on a foul tip, and was limited to just 17 games that season.

The next year, the Yankees moved on by signing Brian McCann. Cervelli returned and posted strong numbers offensively as the backup, hitting for a .301/.370/.432 line in 162 plate appearances. The Yankees ended up trading him that off-season for Justin Wilson, giving him the opportunity he needed with the Pirates.

That injury in 2013 wasn’t a one time thing. Cervelli has a long history of minor and major injuries throughout his career. As a quick rundown, he’s had a:

**Hamstring injury that put him out a week in 2010

**Fractured left foot that put him out for a month in 2011

**A concussion that put him out most of September 2011

**The fractured right hand in 2013

**A hamstring injury that put him out for two months in 2014

While Cervelli needed an opportunity to start, he also needed to stay healthy. And for the most part, the Pirates kept him healthy. They saw him go down for a day here or there with minor injuries, but nothing serious. The question is whether they can do this again in 2016, keeping him on the field for the entire season.

The Pirates put a big focus on keeping players fresh last year, using the Golden State Warriors approach of rotating guys in and out of the lineup, and giving guys key days of rest. They use techniques to track how healthy a player is, such as the Iron Man looking shirts that track a player’s biometrics after each game. The results have been strong, and might be a reason why Cervelli managed to stay healthy last year, especially with avoiding hamstring problems.

“The way they manage all the kind of things is great,” Cervelli said. “Sometimes you don’t understand why they give you a day off, but there’s a reason all the time. In the end, you start to understand why. They’ve been doing an amazing job with technology, with signs and everything. It’s been working really good.”

This is almost similar to the situation that surrounded Russell Martin. You had an injury prone catcher with strong defense and good hitting tools, but not consistent results in the stat line. He came to Pittsburgh, stayed healthy, and put up better offensive numbers. In Martin’s case, he cashed in on his two years with the Pirates in a big way. He made $17 M with the Pirates, then signed a five-year, $82 M deal with the Blue Jays last off-season.

Cervelli is making $3.5 M this year, which means the Pirates will be getting him for about $4.5 M total over his two-year span. But will the same thing happen with Cervelli that happened with Martin, where he cashes in at the end of the season? If he has another year like last year, that could definitely be a possibility.

There were some rumors over the off-season that the Pirates could work to extend Cervelli, although he told me that he has heard no talk about an extension.

“I’m open, but it’s not my priority right now. If they want to approach me, they’ll approach me,” Cervelli said. “I’m focused on the season. I don’t want to create a weird atmosphere for my teammates.”

With Spring Training starting, and with the season approaching, I’d be surprised if the Pirates extend Cervelli at this point. I think Elias Diaz is the catcher of the future, and the Pirates definitely like him. That would almost be a fitting way to end this situation, since Diaz is another strong defensive catcher with good offensive skills who hasn’t consistently put up good offensive numbers. But first, the Pirates would need another good season from Cervelli, and the biggest key to that is keeping him healthy once again.

  • This is his last season in Pittsburgh.

  • QO at least I would hope to get the draft pick compensation worst-case you keep up with two good catchers

    • In order to offer the QO to him, the Pirates would have to be willing to pay him 16m+ for one season. I’m not sure they are willing to go that route with him. The QO is back firing. It will end up benefiting the rich teams because they can afford to gamble if a player accepts it. Small market teams will need to be more selective.

  • Just curious where has Johnny Fever aka NMR been hiding? Parole violation or witness protection?

  • My .02 on the matter is that the Pirates will definitely NOT extend Cervelli. It’s not their style for a 31 yr old given his economic status. They have a backup catcher now and with Diaz and McGuire pushing up with their strong defense, the relief will have to come from within. You can’t keep finding a Martin or a Cervelli every year.

    • ArthurDayne
      March 1, 2016 7:50 pm

      You think it’s fair to say Marte and Polanco are more talented offensively than Diaz in Year 0-1? Now it took Marte about 2 years to swing the bat well and he still strikes out like the plague at times. Still waiting on Polanco.

      This is where I don’t get all the Diaz love. He better be this elite defender everyone butters him up to be. Because if that isn’t exactly as advertised, what do exactly have?

      Jump in anytime NMR.

      • It might be helpful to avoid potentially talking beyond each other if we define what “swing the bat well” is for everyone.

        Because people could say Marte swung it fine in his first full season (second year in the league) with that 122 wRC+. It took him about 200 at bats to get there, which is a pretty good scenario all things considered for a rookie.

        Polanco is a better example of some highly talented guys taking time to adjust to a new level.

        One thing i think is just useless to this conversation though is doubting his defense at this point. Scouts agree, coaches agree, and most fans that have watched him agree. He’s got ML level defense. To go “yeah but what if” doesnt make sense with that skill set.

        • ArthurDayne
          March 2, 2016 5:19 am

          Has he played 1 defensive inning in the MLs? Thrown out a runner? Mapped out a game? Dealt with a slump?

          Again, I am really surprised that some bright baseball people on this site are convinced hes going to be good out the chute. Could be 3-4 years.

          • I won’t speak for everyone, but it’s not so much that I’m 100% convinced Elias Diaz will immediately be a 2-3 WAR player as much as it’s that I don’t believe Cervelli will continue to be a 3-4 WAR player, and that difference simply isn’t enough for the commitment they’ll have to make.

            You’re absolutely right to be skeptical of Diaz’s bat, I just also think there’s more than enough reason to be skeptical of Cervelli’s as well. How many marginal runners with fringy contact quality do you see carry >.330 BABIP’s through their early 30s? Hell, how many guys to do see carry >.330 BABIP’s through their early 30s, period?

            There’s so little quality catching in the game right now that a good not great player like Cervelli is exactly the kind of guy that gets more years and money than he’s probably worth, and that’s not a game the Pirates should be playing for potential short term gain.

            I will say it again, though, the Pirates are wrong for not allowing an opportunity for Diaz to break in this year when so many of their other prospects will be doing the same. Rare for a rookie catcher to be handed the primary duties in his first taste of the big leagues, which is what they’ll be asking Diaz to do in 2017.

            • ArthurDayne
              March 2, 2016 9:40 am

              There was talk on the radio this morning paraphrasing your comments.

              As I said to Luke, catchers probably take longer to develop than the average position prospect. It will be interesting how this is handled.

          • The constant “he hasnt played in the majors so ill doubt him” never makes sense.

            Since a guy hasnt played in the majors, you cant look at his body of work to that point and judge him off that? Particularly with defense which is nowhere near as opponent based as offense.

            You convolute good with good on defense for me. He might not be overall “good” right away, but he’ll be solid on defense. It is possible to realize a guy has ML ready defense before he plays 1 ML game. His defense has been consistent in every level.

  • buccotime57
    March 1, 2016 6:19 pm

    I like cervelli but I.hope we do not extend him after the year. Keep moving younger guys up and save the money for a younger players extension.

  • ArthurDayne
    March 1, 2016 5:06 pm

    Tim, I know you won’t name names, but does the “dip” ban in the NY and CA stadiums affect the PBC much? Or are they mostly bubble gum?

    • I honestly don’t know. I do know that there are about 15 bins of bubble gum around the locker room at all times. I’ve also seen people using dip, but haven’t really cared enough to remember or notice who it was.

  • This is any easy one. I hope Franco has an even better year – Puts up a 5 WAR and then.
    1. If the Bucs are contenders at the trade deadline they keep him and give him the QO…
    2. If the Bucs are out of contention at the deadline they flip him for players/prospects.

    In the event he has a year more like what I think most of use expected for last year ~2-3 WAR then you consider trying to get him signed for 2017 and move Stewart.

    • Not necessarily a fan of giving Cervelli a QO. He’s making $3.5 million this season, so there is a chance he could accept a $15 million QO. The Pirates really can’t afford to be paying Cervelli that kind of money when they have Diaz ready to go for minimum.

      • ArthurDayne
        March 1, 2016 5:08 pm

        Are you sure he’s “ready to go”? Also, Cervelli hits like he did in 2015, could be a nice market, and a comp pick possibly, right?

      • QO’s this year were $15.8M, next season they’ll be higher…

        I agree…unless he suddenly turns into prime Piazza…no, the Pirates have no reason or need to give 1/7 of their payroll to a guy who’s had two solid seasons.

      • Attacking the not so popular angle here, why wouldnt it be fine to afford another year of Cervelli at 15 million?

        Yes, it’d be unusual for PGH. But he’d be a 1 year investment and coming off back to back seasons that instill confidence. You can easily move Stewart if you want Diaz getting starting time.

        From a risk/reward standpoint, i think PGH easily offers a QO. If they get “stuck” with Cervelli, its a 1 time cost that likely makes them a bit better on offense during years where a large chunk of the rotation should be making very little. Diaz will be ready to go, but not clearly an upgrade and a really solid backup.

        • Even with Melancon coming off the books, the raises for Marte, Cutch, and Cole will eat that difference up. So, without any improvements to the team or considering raises to Wilson, Kang, etc., that kind of raise to Cervelli raises payroll by $13M.





          • Wilson?
            Is Kang getting a raise?

            • Kang gets a raise….

              Wilson when I should have said Watson…you got me there 🙂 🙂 🙂

              • I don’t disagree and I’m completely fine with Diaz getting a shot. He may even be better defensively and he’s got good plate discipline.

          • That seems a bit much.

            Kang gets a 250,000 raise. So yes, he’s paid more but far from something that greatly impacts this situation.

            Hell, if you combine the raises of Cutch+Marte+Harrison+Kang you get 5,750,000. Even if you give Cole 5 million in his first year of arb thats 10-11 in raises for all the “major” raises.

            You’d have Vogelsong, S Rod, Morse set to come off. Thats roughly 9 million coming off right there. Along with Melancon’s 9 himself. They certainly couldnt do it for multiple years, but to say they cant afford that 16 million due to raises seems odd to me. They can shed 9 million in useless weight, will shed 9 in Melancon, and could boot a guy like Locke if really pressed to due so.

        • I can buy this. Before the mid-season spare parts acquisitions/promotions, the Bucs sit around $97 mill for 2016. The 25-man projects around $84 mill. Plenty of room for Cervelli if his 2016 performance merits a QO and he ends up taking it. But as noted, if his 2016 performance merits a QO, someone will offer him at least a 3/$33 or so. And the Bucs get a comp pick. Nothing bad either way.

        • ArthurDayne
          March 2, 2016 8:22 am

          How long did it take Stewart and Cervelli to get where they are now?

          I don’t think its off base to say that it takes years for a catcher to develop at the ML level.

          • I think its more of an issue with understanding some rookies may be more “not bad” than “great” right away. Catchers offense does develop slower, but those two examples also come with playing time issues that make it tough to see clear causations or correlations.

            With a Taillon/Glasnow, they dont really have to be TOR level right away and that’d be fine. With Diaz, if he’s the starter and the bat is 70-80 wRC+, it puts pressure on guys like Mercer and Harrison to avoid having regression years.

      • If Cervelli was in line for a huge deal, then it wouldn’t matter how much he made this year, but how much he could make with that deal.

        • Unless Cervelli stays completely healthy this season and puts up big numbers, he will not be certain that he’s in line for a huge deal. A QO would be a guaranteed $15.8 million which is more than four times what he’s making this season. Every year there are a couple of guys who turn down the QO and live to regret it (Ian Desmond for example). And a lot more players accepted the QO this year than ever before (and I suspect more than a few clubs now regret making those QO’s). If I were Cervelli I’d be very tempted to take the bird in the hand as it were if I had any doubt whatsoever about what the market was going to be. Times have changed, and you can no longer just assume that a player is going to turn down a QO.

      • If he puts up a 4-5 WAR he won’t be on the market more than two weeks

  • Maybe they want to see if he can do it two years in a row? If he does, tho, he’s gone. If he doesn’t they were smart in not extending him?

    Also, they have Diaz and McGuire in the minors. I love Diaz’ defense, but if he can’t hit, then is he a viable replacement for Cervelli? Will McGuire hit?

    Are the Pirates caught between a rock and a hard place?

    If only we had a crystal ball. 🙂

    • ArthurDayne
      March 1, 2016 4:41 pm

      Tough case, with the injury history. Wish they had another year of control to decide. With this next FA class pretty thin, even looking at it overall, he could easily get overpaid.

      • He may get overpaid…I just hope it isn’t the Pirates who do it.

        He was a great addition when the Pirates had no one…but, let’s be honest, he’ll be a 31 year old catcher when the next season kicks off…there’s no reason why the Pirates should be paying him $8.5M+/year until age 35 when they’ve got Diaz now.

        • ArthurDayne
          March 1, 2016 7:21 pm

          The optimism on Elias Diaz bat, at least in the next 2-3 seasons, really surprises me.

          • The optimism of his bat is irrelevant….it’s the question…is the difference between his bat and defense, as opposed to Cervelli’s, a $16M gap?

            I mean, really…giving Cervelli a QO is making him, at worst, the fifth best paid catcher in the major leagues in 2017.

            • ArthurDayne
              March 1, 2016 8:38 pm

              And Cervelli hits .300 again, he just might be worth a QO or extension.

              Remember we are on this “hits, walks, less strikeouts, less power” kick. Might not be a great idea to let one of your more patient hitters leave.

            • ArthurDayne
              March 1, 2016 8:39 pm

              This feels a little like Volquez.

              “Meh, that’s too much. We got young guys.”


              • I am totally in agreement sign the paisan now!

              • Joe Nastasi
                March 2, 2016 2:04 am

                1 difference, with Volquez they choose 1 year of AJ over him thiking they had Taillon on the way. AJ not a young prospect. Back then I thought they should’ve went with Volquez over AJ, but I didn’t see it as a horrible decision. Taillon going down made it one, but hindsight is easy.

          • Solid walk rate, good contact rate, and the fact he is built like a rock makes me feel good about the bat. If he becomes the 1.0+ dWAR player pretty much everyone thinks he will be he will only need to be a .250 hitter to be a really nice MLB starting catcher because his obp rate has consistently been 50-75 pts above his BA and he has pretty much been a 40-50 XBH guy per 150 games pretty much his entire minor league career. I think he’s already a better player than Stewart and I think it’s a tossup to who will have the better career, him or McGuire. If I had to choose one or the other I would probably pick Diaz. I really like the overall package and the chance that he becomes a 10-12 HR guy eventually.

  • There might be some manager error there. We might have played him too much.”

    Clint says “Them’s fightin’ words”.

    🙂 🙂