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A Francisco Cervelli Trade Would Be Counterproductive

Francisco Cervelli’s name has come up in trade rumors, but dealing him might not be worth it. Photo by AP.

The offseason catcher market has been surprisingly quiet so far. Wilson Ramos got a two year deal from the Mets, and while it’s being lauded as a steal for New York, it seems like a fair contract for a 30-something fringe-top 10 catcher with an ACL tear on his permanent record. J.T. Realmuto is the big catch of the trade market, but there hasn ?t been any buzz around him since the Winter Meetings. Yasmani Grandal is one of the game ?s best defensive catchers and an above average hitter, and while he apparently has some four year offers on the table, he ?s not getting the attention that a consistent 5 WARP player usually would. There are a couple budget free agents too, like Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado, but the general consensus is the true consolation prize for anyone who misses out on a catcher is Francisco Cervelli.

The Pirates have a track record of trading away veterans in their walk year, which has worked out for the most part (Hanrahan for Melancon, Cutch for Crick, Melancon for Vazquez). Keeping Cervelli would help the 2019 team, but his injury history makes him a volatile asset. The Pirates also have catcher depth. Elias Diaz enjoyed his best offensive season in 2018. Jacob Stallings grew up through the farm system with the pitching staff and calls a good game. It ?s a good idea to hear what other teams are willing to offer for him.

And they have heard offers. During the Winter Meetings, local veteran reporter John Perrotto tweeted that a Cervelli for Ross Strippling swap was possible between the Bucs and Dodgers. The deal eventually fell apart, but it wasn’t because of Cervelli’s concussion history.

If this trade is truly dead, it ?s a shame for the Pirates. Stripling is one of the better kept secrets in Los Angeles. Out of the 116 pitchers who logged at least 120 innings last season, he was one of four to average at least 10 K/9 and less than 2 BB/9 (Chris Sale, Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom). He is in the top third in the league in lowest average exit velocity allowed (min. 100 batted balls). And as an added bonus, he comes with four years of control. He has not pitched a whole season as a starter in the majors, but even with that one blemish, he would still be a great middle of the rotation piece.

I don ?t think this is a good indication of what Cervelli ?s trade value is, though. The Dodgers are doing some, um, interesting roster reconstruction this offseason. This may have only been a proposal when they were looking to unload one of their swing rotation pieces. They just undersold Alex Wood to the Reds, so they might be content with their rotation now.

Cervelli was worth 3.3 fWAR last season. That comes out to $26.8 million of production, going based on the standard $8 million per 1 WAR rate. His upcoming salary for 2019 is $11.5 million, so his surplus value would be roughly $15 million. Going based off Kevin and Steve ?s prospect evaluations, a pitcher ranked 76-100 overall surplus value of roughly $15 million. Assuming Cervelli is valued at his production from last year, this is what a fair, one-for-one return would look like. If the Pirates can get a slight overpay or include some cash in the deal, a return of a 51-75 pitcher ($19.7 million) or a 76-100 position player ($20.2 million) could be within reach, too.

Kevin and Steve use Baseball America ?s top 100 list for their model. For the purpose of throwing names against the wall, I ?ll be looking at MLB Pipeline ?s (free to access) rankings. Baseball America ?s list will be updated in a month anyway. These five teams hope to compete in 2019 and have eight prospects that fall in one of these categories.

Dodgers: 71 RHP Dustin May, 82 SS/2B Gavin Lux

Angels: 72 RHP Griffin Canning, 98 OF Brandon Marsh

Rockies: 94 3B Colton Welker, 99 RHP Peter Lambert

Phillies: 64 RHP Adonis Medina

Astros: 95 RHP Josh James

There are some intriguing names there, but Cervelli is an impact player. These trade proposals are based on the assumption that he is a 3+ WAR player next year. Prospects in this range have an over 40% chance of never producing a big league win above replacement. Two-thirds don ?t reach 3 WAR. The Pirates ? projected 2019 payroll is low enough already. Unless they are absolutely in love with one of these minor leaguers, they don ?t need to gift an impact player away from the faint promise of getting another one down the road. The Pirates committed themselves to trying to compete when they traded for Chris Archer and Keone Kela. Trading Cervelli for a prospect is counterproductive to that.

A major league trade is harder to project. If he were to go to a team like the Athletics, they could theoretically package Cervelli with a prospect for shortstop Marcus Semien, or they could get a prospect and left-handed reliever Ryan Butcher instead. If they can get creative enough, perhaps they can swing a three team swap with one of the clubs listed above, with the Diamondbacks ? shortstop Nick Ahmed coming back in return. Either way, a true one-for-one trade seems murky, and Cervelli’s value may not be high enough for a good package of players.

Right now, it doesn ?t look like the Pirates could get a worthwhile return for Cervelli. Perhaps that can change once Realmuto is dealt and Grandal finds a home, but at a certain point, the Pirates need to know who their starting catcher is. Unless they get a pretty substantial overpay- like Stripling- it ?s hard to justify not having Cervelli be their guy.

Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.

13 Comments on A Francisco Cervelli Trade Would Be Counterproductive

  1. I actually think that it all depends on what the plans that FOLLOW any trade of Cervelli would be. If they trade Cervelli, and go into 2019 with a $65 million payroll and Diaz/Stallings, then i’m screaming at them even if they get some #50 ranked prospect.

    Realistically, they could get Diaz a strong backup (preferably one that can hit righties well and has handled a full workload in his career, in case of Diaz injury) for < $5 million, and throw a bunch of money around to get the payroll back to 85+. Done in the right way, i think this could be effective in addressing both the team's present and future.

    My personal ideal set of moves would be dealing Cervelli for some interesting prospect, signing Grandal for say 3 x $15million, and going with a not-100%-strict platoon of Grandal and Diaz. Grandal and Diaz are natural platoon partners, as Grandal bashes righties and Diaz bashes lefties. Catcher is a pretty easy spot to platoon since you never really want to start your primary guy more than 5-6 days a week anyway. In theory, there would still be money left to sign the Jed Lowrie that i desire.

    • I guess ultimately i think Diaz makes it possible for them to have their future-thinking cake, while eating present-thinking cake too.

      I think the downgrade from… say… Cervelli/Diaz to Diaz/Wieters (for example) is small enough to justify gaining the prospect and having an additional 5+ million to throw at the rest of the team.

      I also think the upgrade from Cervelli/Diaz to Grandal/Diaz is worth being able to spend 5 fewer million on the rest of the team. Let’s just assume the prospect from a Cervelli trade is probably pretty similar to the prospect they’d lose via compensation when signing Grandal.

      Yasmani Grandal at 3×15 would be too good to pass up.

    • WhyNotEnrique // December 26, 2018 at 10:45 AM //

      Provided landing Grandal is a possibility I love that idea it’s an unreal platoon. I like the idea of trading cervelli for kike Hernandez to fill in at short.

  2. Might the Dodgers be back after the Harper sweepstakes are done ?

    The pirates lack catching depth in the system so it makes sense they don’t want to lose Stallings by waiting to trade Cervelli at the trade deadline once they are out of it .

    • When it comes to the subject of Stallings, I think about 3 questions.

      1) if he got claimed by another team, is that a big deal?

      2) do we even think he would get claimed by anybody if put on waivers?

      3) if he does get claimed, is he really THAT much better than what they can bring in on a minor league deal?

      My personal opinion is that the answer to 1 and 3 are “no” and 2 is “50/50” but I guess I’m open to hearing a “Stallings projects to be a better than avg backup, and that is worth keeping around” argument.

      • Alex Stumpf // December 26, 2018 at 1:53 PM //

        I’m in the “he’s better than the average backup” camp. The pitching staff loves him. I don’t like him enough to trade Cervelli just to keep him, but once Cervelli leaves, I am 100% on board with him backing up Diaz. I might even be willing to consider carrying 3 catchers out of Bradenton if there is a better chance of sneaking him through waivers in April.

  3. Michael Bradley // December 26, 2018 at 12:35 PM //

    Need to buy low on players/prospects. Stripling played in a pitchers’ park with the best framing catcher of our generation. Buying better high on him. Find the O’neil Cruz’s and Joe Musgroves and target them.

    • Michael Bradley // December 26, 2018 at 12:36 PM //

      “rather high” (darn autocorrect)

    • The best framing catcher of our generation is available as a free agent now. Just sayin

      To me, giving Yasmani Grandal 45 million over 3 years is as much of a slam dunk use of 45 million as you can have on the FA market.

      And 3 x 15 is the *highest* projection I’ve seen for Grandal.

      A projected 3.5 WAR player, predicted to be paid like a 2 WAR player or less, and that’s before factoring in the transcendent pitch framing.

      Grandal will mash the righties. Diaz will mash the lefties. It is perfect.

      • Alex Stumpf // December 26, 2018 at 1:50 PM //

        If Grandal is really available for 3/45, then the Pirates should absolutely be in on him. I see him getting 4/70 or 5/80-ish instead.

        • I agree that that’s closer to what he SHOULD get. but the spots where I looked for contract predictions… fangraphs and Jon Heyman (which of course may be a mistake) had predictions as low as 2 yrs 20 million (heyman), and 3 yrs 45 mil was the high and was from fangraphs crowdsourcing. I think Kiley McDaniel had him predicted at 3 yrs 39 mil.

          Of course this is all pointless until his pricetag is actually revealed. With the info available to me, starting the “trade cervelli and sign Grandal” train is one of the few things to keep me busy in cold stove season. Along with Jed Lowrie, of course.

  4. I feel like the Stripling/Cervelli swap would’ve been the perfect trade, albeit b/c that’s an incredible value for 1 year of Cervelli. Over at BucsDugout I outlined potential returns for Cervelli from LAD and I opted for the 2 prospects that could help in ’19 and then reinvest some of that savings into Maldanado.

    I would want to believe that the FO would pounce on an incredible value like 3/$45 for Grandal, but I honestly think they just look at the total dollar value.. not at the value that he provides in all aspects of his game. So because of that, I try not to get excited about that possibility.

    Did a quick analysis of Semien for purposes of this article. I personally have Cervelli around $9M in surplus value based on my own projections and WAR valued at $9/WAR, so if we go w/ your value of $15M then Semien is w/in range. With 2 years of TC, I have him pegged at around $19.11M surplus value, but that’s with a salary projections of $25M over 2 years. I think that that may be slightly inflated, which would increase his surplus value. You’re trading for 1 year of a ~3WAR player for 2 years of a 2.5WAR player. Kicking in some cash could make that happen, I suppose though.

    I did a quick perusal of those 5 teams (listed above)’s active roster and didn’t find much of a marriage with regards to Major Leaguers that could fit like Stripling. Again, that trade would be ideal from a TC/Salary perspective and bang-for-buck.

  5. I believe the Pirates will trade Cervelli even though they do not get what others consider to be true value for him. He will not play out his contract and the risk of waiting to trade him at the deadline is great due to his health issues. I view getting Grandal as wishful thinking. Huntington will be fine with Diaz as his starter and Stallings would be a decent back-up. While Stallings did not hit MLB pitching last year, he hit well in AAA in both of the last two years. I agree with the view that a Cervelli trade would be OK if the money is reinvested in a SS or starter would would have some impact. While the overall offense has some question marks a great fielding SS who could save runs would be very important to a team that wants to pitch to contact. A reclamation project pitcher who has a good history would also be an acceptable roll of the dice.

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