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.