The Pittsburgh Pirates just finished up avoiding arbitration with all of their arbitration eligible players last week, each of whom received a one-year deal, except for backup catcher Chris Stewart. Early last week, it was reported that Stewart and the Pirates had agreed to a two-year extension with a club option for 2018. The team hasn’t yet confirmed the deal, and the financial terms haven’t yet been disclosed either.
The move came as a surprise to many people. For one, the catcher that many people have been pushing to get an extension is Francisco Cervelli. Cervelli is still going to be the starting catcher in 2016, but is a free agent at the end of the year. He would be due for a sizable contract then, most likely not the size that Russell Martin received, but still a good raise from the money he’s made so far in his career. Could the Pirates still give Cervelli an extension before the season starts, or during or after the season? Of course. They gave Starling Marte an extension right before the 2014 season, and Josh Harrison an extension after last season had already begun. So it’s certainly not out of the question.
The next question that arises is what happens to Elias Diaz, the minor league catcher that, while not a top 100 prospect, has quickly risen through the catching depth chart for the Pirates in the minors. He passed by Tony Sanchez last year, the former fourth overall pick who the Pirates recently cut ties with, with his great defensive skills and a bat that has almost caught up with that defense. Diaz was even able to be on the major league roster for two games last year, and seems to be one of the options for either a starting or backup role for the Pirates in the near future.
So that’s why the Stewart extension raised questions. Before that deal, a logical future for the catching position seemed to be in place. Give Cervelli an extension this off-season, part ways with Stewart after 2016, then enter 2017 with a team of Cervelli and Diaz at catcher. Now, it seems that that 2017 plan has become more complicated. Now, the catcher position in 2017 seems to include Stewart in the mix. What does this extension truly mean for the team moving forward?
It could mean that the Pirates don’t plan on extending Cervelli. They may not be prepared to offer Cervelli the money he may demand, as baseball begins to value pitch framing and defense more. It’s important to note that Cervelli will be 31 before the 2017 season starts, and the Pirates generally don’t give long-term contracts to players in their 30s. He also has an injury history and has been suspended for PEDs in the past. They may also be confident in Diaz’s ability to take over the starting role after Cervelli. Diaz held a .271/.330/.382 line at Triple-A Indianapolis last season, and batted .312/.366/.421 between Double and Triple-A in 2014; his bat is coming around after a slow start to his minor league career. Diaz also threw out runners at a 30% clip in 2015 and at a 31% clip in 2014. That’s a great percentage if it translates over to the majors. His defense behind the plate also has received great reviews. All in all, he may very well be ready to be a starter in the majors in 2017.
Or maybe we’re all just overthinking the Stewart extension. Maybe the team will extend Cervelli and then trade Stewart during or after the 2016 season. Stewart is a quality backup catcher, and has been a positive win player during his time with the Pirates; I don’t think he would be a hard player to trade, as teams always need and value catching depth.
But until we hear that the Pirates are having extension talks with the Cervelli (which we haven’t yet), we can only evaluate Stewart’s extension at face value. And as it stands now, Chris Stewart seems to be a part of the Pirates’ future plans, while we can’t say for certain that both Cervelli and Diaz are. Hopefully we find out more about this situation in the near future.
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