First Pitch: Can Elias Diaz Still Replace Francisco Cervelli in 2017?

Two years ago, Pirates fans spent the entire 2014 season wondering if Russell Martin would come back the following year. There were campaigns to extend him, and fear that the entire team would fall apart without him. All of this was ironic when you consider that hardly anyone thought Martin would be that good when he was signed prior to the 2013 season. The overwhelming belief was that he could provide good defense, wouldn’t provide offense, and had question marks on whether he could stay healthy.

Last year, the Pirates let Martin walk, and traded for Francisco Cervelli, getting two years of control in the process. Just like with Martin, no one was really confident in Cervelli. He had good defensive skills, the bat was in question, and the health was a concern. And now, one year later, it looks like we’re going to spend another season wondering if he should be extended, a little over a year after the Pirates received criticism for replacing Martin with him.

I’ve written before that this whole cycle could repeat itself next year. Elias Diaz looks like the replacement for Cervelli. Once again, you’ve got a strong defensive catcher with good hitting skills, but a lack of consistency so far. I guess now, we can add the health concerns to the mix, in order to complete the comparison.

Diaz underwent surgery this week to clean up his right elbow. He’s expected to miss 7-9 weeks, which means he could return in early July, at the latest. That gives him almost two months of work in the minors, plus a likely September call-up again, if he’s doing well. Assuming this clears up his elbow soreness, that should be enough to get him back on track, ready to take over next year.

Let’s be honest. At this point, Francisco Cervelli is not getting extended. That’s not because “Nutting is cheap”. It’s because an extension doesn’t make sense for anyone. The Pirates need to wait and see how their replacement is doing before making a decision. And why would Cervelli accept an extension now, when he could be in line for a huge payday after just 5+ months of the season remaining?

The question becomes whether the Pirates should re-sign Cervelli. That’s a question for the off-season. It’s a question that can only be answered after we see how Diaz recovers from his injury. It’s a question that can be answered after we see what kind of market Cervelli has. It’s a question that needs to wait until we see what kind of ex-Yankees catchers might be available this off-season. Well, maybe not that last part, unless Gary Sanchez becomes available.

I can see Diaz repeating this cycle again. The defense is excellent, with good framing skills, one of the best arms in the minors behind the plate, and great work with pitchers. The offense hasn’t been consistent, but the skills have always shown up to match the type of production that Cervelli is putting up. He looks like a guy who you’d expect to come in and just help out defensively, only to surprise people with his offensive production as well. Just like Cervelli. Just like Martin.

And then we get to go through something similar in a few years when Reese McGuire is ready for the majors.

**Pirates Prospects Looking For Additional Writers in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. We’re looking for additional writers in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. Details are in the link, and if you know anyone who would be a good fit, send them our way.

**What the Pirates Pitching Prospects Can Learn From the Jake Arrieta Renaissance. James Santelli takes a look at what led to Jake Arrieta’s emergence to being one of the best pitchers in baseball, and wonders what the current Pirates pitching prospects can learn from this. By the way, I’ve been asked this week if James has returned to cover the team. In a way, yes. As many of you know, James was our beat writer in 2013, and I should say he was an award-winning beat writer, since his article on defensive shifts that year won some awards and got a lot of national attention. Since then, James has had an open invitation to return and write whenever he’s available. That happened in 2014, but he didn’t have time in 2015. He’ll be doing more big features on the site throughout the year. And when we get to the point where we can hire a full-time beat writer, I know where my first call will go.

**Elias Diaz Undergoes Right Elbow Surgery, Out 7-9 Weeks. This is good news, as Diaz avoids a major surgery that would put him out the entire season.

**Pirates Option Jason Rogers to Indianapolis. Late night transaction, which pretty much signals that Jung-ho Kang will return on Friday. With Rogers gone, the only guy to back up first base is David Freese, which was the plan when Kang returned.

**Prospect Watch: Altoona Debut For Waddell, Keller Goes Seven Innings for First Time. Brandon Waddell had a good debut for Altoona, and the Mitch Keller breakout continues with his first seven inning outing.

**Cole Tucker Expects to Finish Rehab and Join West Virginia Next Week. Good news on Cole Tucker, as he’s slated to return to West Virginia next week, almost two months earlier than the earliest timeline when he had labrum surgery last year.

**Morning Report: When Do They Start Limiting Jameson Taillon? John Dreker looks at Taillon’s workload, and wonders when the Pirates will start limiting him early in the year.

  • SufferinBuccotash
    May 5, 2016 11:41 am

    When I first read that I thought it said “…unless Gaby Sanchez becomes available”….

    • And amazingly, that would be less scary than if it said “Tony Sanchez”.

  • I would look at Jonathan Lucroy in the offseason. It might take a higher level pitching prospect and Lucroy would only be here for a year. But I’m not confident in handing the reigns over to Diaz. Make Diaz the backup, giving him a couple starts per week. Then in 2018 Diaz and Reese McGuire should be ready to go.

    • Stewart already signed as the backup. Splitting time between Stewart and Diaz would pretty much accomplish the same thing. Lucroy would come at a price of 5.5 mil for that club option to keep him here for 2017. Not sure how his contract reads for no trade clauses and does the option void or change if he is traded? Not sure he would be worth giving up a higher level pitcher for only 1 year over Diaz, assuming Diaz is healthy

  • Maybe you’re right. I know he’s young for the level but it would be nice for his iso to pick up somewhat this year. I know he makes contact.

  • BallHeadWonder
    May 5, 2016 9:50 am

    NH knows exactly what’s going on!! They are going to offer this dude a Qualifing Offer for him to decline and we get a draft pick!!! Win Win for me!! Diaz will grow into the position!! The question is “Is Reese better than Diaz?? Long term!!”

  • Good luck matching Santelli’s big TV star salary, Tim…

  • Alan Bellomo
    May 5, 2016 6:47 am

    It is an interesting quandary that the Pirates are facing here. Cervelli is well liked by the community. He is one of the “faces of the franchise.” Not at the Cutch level but I think he is at the Neil Walker level. It is to bad the team can not afford to keep him, Stewart and Diaz. Perhaps if Diaz needs another year before he is ready for the major leagues or if the DH comes to the National League.

    • Not sure if it is a case of not being able to afford Diaz. Walker was not worth what it would have taken to sign him long term. He will get a 5 year deal this next off season and will cost way to much given his history of back issues and Walkers current age. If Diaz is healthy and no issues with the arm, no problem having Diaz stepping in. Cervelli would not only block Diaz but potentially slow McGuire in his arrival to the bigs. If McGuire is what he is supposed to be, I would want him behind the plate and have Diaz back him up for several years.

  • Why would we be talking about Reese replacing anyone at this point. His MLEs suggest he will be lucky if ever hits as well as Chris Stewart.

    • He’s barely 21 years old in AAA and has been ranked as the best defensive catcher in the minors. Catchers are notorious for being slow to develop their bats. Give it time …

      • Reese got promoted to AAA????


        • Maybe wtm1613 has a heavy “A” finger!!! Actually for being as young as he is in AA, still not bad stats. He started of slow at the plate in High A as well and picked it up as the year went, if I am not mistaken. Looking for him to do the same this year. A year and a half at AAA starting next year and he may well be ready to go to the majors if his bat is ready by then.

    • Too early to be assuming Reese will take over, not too early to talk about how he might replace someone in 3-4 years due to his quality skill set.

      Much like assuming any prospect is assured to do anything 3 years from now is silly, so is dismissing it as a possibility that far out.

  • Cervellis camp was talking 3/39 before the season. If the could have locked him up for 3/33 should have done so

    • If they’re talking 3/39, why would he sign for 3/33 ?

      • You’ll never get him for 3/39 now. Over the winter that was the number they leaked which makes me think it was initial offer at the time.

        • I get that. I’m just saying 3/33 was never an option.

          I’m betting he gets 5/50.

          • You don’t know that . Cervelli probably knew they would have to come down from 3/39. That was his starting point

            • Actually we kind of do. Look at the market. Look at his pitch framing. One can deduce his value there.

              He has little incentive to take a home town discount this year.

              • I think you’re still missing my point. The 3/33 was something I think MIGHT have been realistic a few months ago before the season started. It’s like when you look for a house and it’s listed at 500K. How often does the seller realistically expect to get their initial asking price? It was Cervelli’s camp who floated the 3/39 idea in the Winter. This makes me think it was an opening offer. The thing is the Pirates apparently didn’t have any interest in trying to negotiate an extension.

    • Last I saw he is projected to be a top ten free agent in the off season and thinking 3-4 years at $20M/ year…