Pittsburgh fans really wanted the Pirates to resign Russell Martin after the 2014 season. Does the Francisco Cervelli extension justify that decision?
Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates announced that they signed catcher Francisco Cervelli to a three-year extension worth a total of $31 million, keeping the talented pitch framer in Pittsburgh through 2019. In his short time in Pittsburgh so far, Cervelli has quickly become a fan favorite due to the passion and emotion he shows on the field, to go along with a sharp eye at the plate and a wonderful ability to manage a pitching staff. After a few seasons shortened by a suspension and multiple injuries, Cervelli has finally earned his big payday.
With the signing, the Pirates have now justified letting the Toronto Blue Jays overpay for Russell Martin after the 2014 season. Like Cervelli, Martin is a hard-working catcher who wears his passion on his sleeve. Unlike Cervelli, Martin provides a lot of power from a position that traditionally does not produce a lot of home run threats. The Pirates knew that many teams would be in the market for Martin and that he may have been out of their price range. This was confirmed when he signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Toronto club.
So Neal Huntington turned his attention to the New York Yankees for yet another catcher and acquired Cervelli for reliever Justin Wilson. Cervelli has quickly turned into another fantastic acquisition for Huntington, while Wilson has since been shipped to the Detroit Tigers in another deal.
If we dig a little deeper, it’s easy to see that the Pirates made the right decision to pass on a long-term deal with Martin, at least from a financial standpoint. Let’s take a look at what each team is paying their starting catchers, beginning with this year and up through 2019, the last year each team controls their backstop. Their ages are listed in parentheses for reference as well.
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Now let’s take a look at Martin’s statistics from last year and this year and compare them to Cervelli’s during the same time period.
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The Pirates were happy with Cervelli’s production last year and so far this year, and decided to extend him while he is still in his early 30s and remove a catcher who most definitely would have had many suitors this winter. The Blue Jays on the other hand, have to be very concerned with Martin’s abrupt decline after signing the most lucrative contract in franchise history. And we haven’t even discussed how the two catchers are doing behind the plate.
Controlling the running game has always been a strong point for Martin, and last year he threw out 32 base-runners in 72 attempts. This season, however, he has only caught four of 17 runners. Last season Cervelli allowed an absurd 101 stolen bases in 130 attempts. He has shown a slight improvement on this so far in 2016, catching 8 base-stealers in 24 attempts. The Pirates were obviously content with Cervelli’s ability at the plate and to frame pitches that they were willing to look past any issues he might have had controlling the running game. Some of the responsibility for keeping runners from stealing does belong to the pitcher, but that’s for an article on a different day.
But for those fans that were second-guessing the decision to not re-sign Martin and were concerned that the Pirates would see a steep drop-off in production at catcher, Cervelli has put all of that to rest. What Cervelli lacks in home run power he more than makes up for in ability to get on base and frame pitches. Huntington has plucked one of the top free agents of the 2017 class from the market before a market could even develop, and did so at an incredible value.