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.