Is Pirates trade for Yankees catcher Cervelli good or bad?

Russell Finelsen, Staff Writer

Recently, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees struck a deal in which Pirates pitcher Justin Wilson was sent to the Yankees and Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli was moved to the Pirates’ roster. But, was it a good trade? Let’s take a look.

The Pirates were in need for a catcher after Russell Martin declined a $15.3 million qualifying offer to try out the free agency market. And, even if Martin signs with someone else and the Pirates receive a compensatory draft pick, they still need an experienced catcher. Hence, the trade for Cervelli. However, Cervelli has not played that much. He played a career high 93 games as a starter, but it was in 2010. Really, he has not become a real starter until the Pirates stole Martin from the Yankees in 2012. This past 2014 season, he hit .301, but only in 162 at-bags due to leg and head injuries. Therefore, Cervelli is more suited as a backup.

To solve their catcher situation, I believe that the Pirates should look to free agency. A good fit would either be Geovany Soto or Nick Hundley.

Soto only played 14 games last year, and he might not be the best hitter, but he is one of the best catchers defensively. This was highlighted in the 2014 AL Wild Card game between the Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals when he was with the Athletics. He did not allow a single stolen base, but when he got hurt, the Royals ran wild. More specifically, the Royals stole eight bases with Athletics catcher Derek Norris behind home base. That’s right, eight! This proves that Soto is great defensively. However,he has had some problems offensively. His last real good season was 2010, when he played 105 games and hit .280 with a 3.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement). Even with his old age, if Soto can return to his 2010 form, he would be a good fit for the Pirates.

Another possibility is Nick Hundley. He is one of the best free agents on the market (after, of course, Russell Martin). This is considering that he has only a .358 OPS (on base plus slugging) last year in 86 games. However, he is like Soto, who has some great years past. More specifically, in 2011, he had a .824 OPS with the Padres. Why has he gone downhill the last few years? Hundley has also spent a lot of time at first base. If he focused specifically focused on the catcher position, which he would with the Pirates, since they already have in Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez at the first base slot, he would do great as the catcher.

The reason that the Pirates need another catcher is due to the fact that they have two out of three inexperienced catchers. Tony Sanchez has played a combined 48 games over two seasons as a major league catcher. Francisco Cervelli has played 66 games over the last two seasons due to Brian McCann and Chris Stewart (now with the Pirates) starting for the Yankees. The most consistent catcher on the Pirates roster is Chris Stewart. Even though he played only 49 games this past season, he hit .294. In addition, he has started before; most recently, last year, when he played 109 games with the Yankees. Therefore, Chris Stewart will probably get a good chance at the starting position with Martin gone and the possibility of another catcher being signed. In my opinion, Sanchez and Cervelli should probably be sent down to AAA to get more experience.

Another reason that Cervelli is a poor fit is his drug abuse. In 2013, he accepted a 50 game suspension in the midst of the Bio-Genesis scandal. But, who says he cannot do it again? Alex Rodriguez, who is also a Yankees player, doped twice in the 2000’s, and others might have too. If Cervelli does it, the Pirates lose a catcher for almost a third of the season, which they cannot afford.

In addition to gaining a mediocre catcher in the trade, the Pirates lost a promising young reliever in Justin Wilson. Even though Wilson was erratic at times and had a 4.60 ERA (Earned Run Averaege) this past season, he was one of the lone left-handers in the bullpen. In addition, he had a great fastball and struck out 46 in only 41 innings. Wilson could have been transferred to AAA to go over his mechanics and learn more about control. Then, he could come back to the majors and attack opposing batters better. Thus, Wilson could have been a key component in the Pirates rotation.

End Result: This was a lose-lose trade for the Pirates. I hope they have better luck securing players in free agency, because they will need it.