Anthony Scherer is the author of this article.
The rumors started coming in November that the Pirates could be looking to move catcher Francisco Cervelli this offseason.
Cervelli, just like outfielder Corey Dickerson, is entering the final year of his deal with the Pirates. With the Pirates being known for moving guys with one year of control left the winter before that final season, one of those two – or both – could join the same list that includes Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen.
There is a difference with Cervelli than there is with Dickerson.
Dickerson has prospects behind him on the verge of joining the Pirates in the near future that could replace him. There isn’t a prospect ready to take over the job that Cervelli does.
They do have Elias Diaz, who played in 82 games last year. Had hit .285 with 10 home runs and 34 runs batted in. He also showed that he could handle the duties of catching for the Pirates, and is under team control through 2022.
Diaz could handle the majority of the catching days if called upon. After that the Pirates would then turn to Jacob Stallings. Stallings didn’t emerge as a great backup option for the Pirates in 2018. He had a .216
batting average with just 5 runs batted in.
With those hitting numbers he had a -0.1 oWAR. Now. all of those happened
in a very small sample size of 14 games. He could get better with more time at the major league level, and he’s under team control through 2023.
When you go deeper into the Pirates catching depth there really isn’t anything that jumps off the page at you. If you look at their top 30 prospects according to MLB Pipeline, they have one player at the catching position and that is Deon Stafford, who’s ranked 29th.
Stafford was drafted in the 5th round in 2017 by the Pirates. His ETA, according to MLB Pipeline, would be 2021. His scouting report seems like he could make for a serviceable backup at the major league level, but the Pirates will need to be patient with him and give him time.
Without highly-rated prospect depth at catcher, the only other option for the Pirates would be through free agency or a trade. Both have worked for the Pirates in the recent past.
Russell Martin, who’s available from the Blue Jays, was a great signing for them back 2013 and had two excellent seasons in Pittsburgh before signing that huge contract in Toronto in 2015.
In that same offseason, the Pirates traded for Cervelli, who has had four really solid seasons for the Pirates, but the injuries that plagued him in New York have come back in Pittsburgh in three of those four seasons.
In his first season with the Pirates he caught 128 games, in the three seasons after he’s caught less than 100 games in each of those seasons.
The offensive numbers for Cervelli are still there. He had the most HRs and RBIs for a season in his career in 2018. He also had a 2.9 oWAR, which was the second highest ever in his career. His highest was a 3.5 oWAR in 2015 with the Pirates.
All of those number and the lack of prospect depth indicate the Pirates should look to keep Cervelli for the 2019 season, but maybe look for Stallings and him to share the backup catching duty while they let Diaz takeover the majority of the starts at that position.
They could also play Cervelli as Josh Bell’s backup at first base. Which could lead to play Bell playing in right field as Polanco gets healthy.
Even if the Pirates do keep Cervelli for the 2019 season they need to address the prospect depth that position soon because the duo of Diaz and Stallings may not get it done when you’re trying to compete with the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals.