When the Yankees lost Russell Martin in 2013 to free agency, they replaced him with Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli. After acquiring Cervelli tonight, it looks like the Pirates are doing the same thing, although I’m not sure which one will start, or if they’ll split the job. This pretty much signals the end for Russell Martin with the Pirates, which isn’t a surprise considering his rumored demands. The Pirates have been linked to Cervelli many times in the past, so you had to figure it was only a matter of time before they got him. So which one of their catchers should be the starter, if there is an actual starter?
Chris Stewart has great defense, and is outstanding in terms of pitch framing. However, Cervelli is better. Here are the Baseball Prospectus numbers for the pitch framing runs per 7000 chances over the last two years.
Francisco Cervelli – 23.8
Chris Stewart – 16.4
Russell Martin – 14.6
Last night I wrote an article detailing how the Pirates could make up for the loss of Russell Martin by re-creating him in the aggregate. Defensively, the comparison of Cervelli to Martin is the same as Stewart to Martin. Cervelli has the edge in pitch framing, although his advantage is much more significant, as he has been worth about a full win more than Martin. However, Martin has the advantage in stolen bases, blocking (although Cervelli rates better than Stewart), and Defensive Runs Saved.
The big difference between Stewart and Cervelli is offense. Cervelli has a career .729 OPS, and is coming off back-to-back seasons with an OPS over .800. The 2013 season is a small sample size, and the 2014 season is due to an unsustainable BABIP (which also fueled career years on offense for Martin and Stewart). But those career numbers are what you’d expect from Martin if his 2014 campaign was in fact a career year that will fall back to earth in 2015. I’d still take Martin as the better player, but the gap in value between Cervelli and where Martin usually is at in his career isn’t insurmountable. The Pirates still need to upgrade at another position like I wrote last night, but this time if they get someone like Adam LaRoche for first base (or his 2014 production from somewhere else), they will end up ahead, rather than just replacing Martin.
I think I would split the work between the two catchers, but Cervelli looks like the better option to get the majority of the workload due to his advantage in the pitch framing department, along with his offense being much better than Stewart’s.
Cervelli is projected to make $1.1 M in arbitration this off-season, which is about what I expected their second catcher to receive if Martin didn’t re-sign. After removing Justin Wilson from the 40-man payroll projections, they’re currently sitting just under $67 M. That would also go down if Ike Davis or Pedro Alvarez get traded away. With the catching position appearing to be set, the Pirates have plenty of money remaining to focus on other areas of the team, such as the rotation and first base.
Of course, this trade also creates another need, and that is for a lefty reliever. With Justin Wilson being traded away in this deal, the Pirates are now down to Tony Watson and Bobby LaFromboise as their only lefty relievers on the 40-man roster. Andy Oliver isn’t on the 40-man roster, and could factor into the mix. He has great stuff, and put up fantastic numbers with Indianapolis this year as their closer. However, he’s had some horrible control problems in his career. That’s a similar case to Wilson, and I’ve felt that Oliver’s upside would be Wilson.
It’s also possible that the Pirates could go the same route that led to success with Watson and Wilson, and that is converting a struggling starter into a quality reliever. Jeff Locke and Joely Rodriguez are two options on the 40-man roster who could go that route. Locke is the better candidate, since he has pitched above Double-A and in the majors. Rodriguez struggled as a starter this year in Altoona, and would probably need more time in the upper minors before he’s an option.
I’d expect the Pirates to pursue some left-handed relief options this off-season, although they traditionally don’t spend money in the bullpen, and I wouldn’t expect them to spend a lot on a second lefty.
As for the trade, I think the Pirates got fair value by dealing Wilson. A week ago, the Angels dealt Hank Conger to the Houston Astros, receiving 24-year-old starter Nick Tropeano and 24-year-old catcher Carlos Perez. Those two grade as a potential back of the rotation starter and a future backup catcher with strong defense. Cervelli is basically the same as Conger, and maybe slightly better, but with one fewer year of control. To give up just one reliever for him seems fair when you see what Houston gave up for Conger. Of course, if you’ve read my analysis over the years, you know that I don’t have a problem dealing relievers, especially for someone who could potentially play 50% or more of the games on the schedule.
**Dan Szymborski says that ZiPS likes the trade for the Pirates.
— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 13, 2014
**Cervelli is under team control through the 2016 season. Stewart is also under team control through the 2016 season. That should be enough to bridge the gap until Elias Diaz is ready to take over. Diaz might be ready by the summer of 2015, but I think Cervelli and Stewart should be good enough defensively to give Diaz some time in the minors.
**This trade comes on the same day that Tony Sanchez departed to catch in the Dominican Republic. I don’t see him factoring into the mix in Pittsburgh in 2015 on Opening Day. I think Sanchez will be the number three catcher on the depth chart, taking over if (or when, based on history) Cervelli or Stewart go down with injuries. Based on how things went at the end of the season in Indianapolis, I could see Elias Diaz getting most of the playing time behind the plate, with Sanchez splitting his time between catching, first base, and DH.
**Free agent starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy seems to love Cervelli.
@DCameronFG then they're doing a hell of a job of it. Cervelli is a stud
— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) November 13, 2014
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