Pittsburgh Pirates And Francisco Cervelli: What’s Not To Like?


Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Pirates announced that Francisco Cervelli had been acquired from the New York Yankees in exchange for LHP Justin Wilson. The move seems solid on the surface, essentially affording the Pirates a backup plan (if you believe them) should their continued attempts to resign Russell Martin not be successful.

Cervelli is coming off of a pretty solid 2014 campaign, one in which he posted the best offensive numbers of his career, generally speaking. Further, Cervelli is noted to be one of the best framing catchers in the game today, something that could benefit the Pirates pitching staff, for sure.

So, what’s not to like about this deal?

Well, first, and probably most primarily, you’ve just displaced a solid lefty from your bullpen in exchange for a guy who’s statistically not much better offensively than your two current catchers on the depth chart in Tony Sanchez and Chris Stewart. Let’s look at the 2014 numbers:

  • Chris Stewart: .294/.362/.331 with 0 HR and a WAR of 0.6 (in 49 games)
  • Tony Sanchez: .267/.300/.360 with 2 HR and a WAR of 0.1 (in 26 games)
  • Francisco Cervelli: .301/.370/.432 with 2HR and a WAR of 1.1 (in 49 games)

Wilson isn’t the best pitcher on staff, but he’s a lefty. If you look at the Pirates’ active roster, you will find exactly four lefties on it, two of which are starters (Jeff Locke and Joely Rodriguez – who?). That leaves you with Bobby LaFromboise and Tony Watson, not exactly the best for match-up based pitching changes late in the game.

Perhaps that’s not even a legitimate concern given Clint Hurdle‘s “gut-based” managerial style.

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Secondly, and probably coming with the greatest risk, Cervelli hasn’t played a full season in his career, mainly due to injuries (Oh, and don’t forget his PED suspension, too.). In fact, he’s never played in over 100 games in a given season, even going back into his minor league career. This brings some concerns that Cervelli has the ability (or perhaps luck, in his case) to establish and maintain himself as the Pirates’ everyday catcher.

Lastly and quite candidly, Cervelli not as solid a defender as Stewart. This can be evidenced by the fact that Cervelli was actually Stewart’s backup when both were with the Yankees in 2013 and can further be justified statistically. Here’s the key head-to-head career numbers:

  • Chris Stewart: .992 Fld% / 31% Caught Stealing (CS) — 295 Games
  • Francisco Cervelli: .985 Fld% / 22% Caught Stealing (CS) — 236 Games

Hurdle will give each the chance to earn the starting job in Spring Training– he may even throw Sanchez a chance at earning the job, though that’s going to be a tough road for Sanchez to hoe. If history is any indicator, Stetwart will be the Pirates starting catcher in 2015 — either by earning the job outright or earning it by proxy (Martin leaves via free agency and/or Cervelli sustains an injury).

Looking at it from altitude, it’s not an awful trade by any means, but it does come with more bad than good, especially when considering what the Pirates had to give up to get to this point. Give up a righty instead, and I become a bigger fan of this deal. Doing something is better than doing nothing.

Notes/Things to Like:

– Cervelli’s nickname is “Gazoo” because of the larger, more heavily padded helmet he employs because of his history of concussions.  Gazoo, of course, is the charter member of the Fred Flinstone fan-club.

– He brings with him experience from a storied franchise in the Yankees with a long history of winning baseball games.

– He will be somewhat inexpensive at around $1M/year, potentially allowing the Pirates to spend more money on the starting rotation (like the A.J. Burnett signing yesterday) when Martin officially signs with a different team.

– If Francisco Liriano resigns with the Pirates, there exist the potential of clever and witty references being made to the battery — FF?  F^2?