After losing last year’s starting backstop Russell Martin to free agency this winter, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ situation behind the dish heading into camp this spring is much different than it has been in recent years.
Martin, who signed a five-year, $82 million with the Toronto Blue Jays, will be replaced by a tandem of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart and Tony Sanchez – all of whom may suffice while the likes of Reese McGuire works his way through the farm system. Still, many fans are seeking a more impactful piece as the team seeks to win a division title – and the Jays’ other option behind the dish, Dioner Navarro, is reportedly seeking a trade.
"“I don’t know when did it go wrong, if anything did go wrong,” Navarro said of his time with Toronto. “I’m just going to be ready and do my job.”"
Under contract through the end of this season for $4 million, Navarro’s camp reportedly told the Jays early on in the offseason that he wanted a trade after the club inked Martin to the staggering deal. That being said, he’s still with the club – although he is still looking for a new home, even as he begins his work in Spring Training.
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Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos told reporters on Tuesday that he would only trade his backup catcher into a starting role, which eliminates a great many potential suitors. One potential destination could be the Arizona Diamondbacks, who lack a legitimate big league catcher opening the spring – but could the Pirates sneak in and land the backstop in a deal?
They certainly have the pieces to pull of a deal – but, simply put, even though fans want a more recognizable backstop – the best thing Pittsburgh can do it sit pat and do nothing.
Stewart and Cervelli are known more for their work behind the plate than their contributions with the bat, but with McGuire probably only around two years away from being ready for the big leagues – the current path is the right one.
Over the course of the last two seasons, split between the Chicago Cubs and Toronto, Navarro has compiled a .283/.333/.427 line across 228 contests – adding 25 home runs and 103 RBI. He’s been worth just under 2.5 wins in each of those years – showcasing above-average skills both defensively and offensively.
By contrast, Cervelli spent 2014 as the backup to Brian McCann in the Bronx, appearing in just 49 contests – in which he batted a very respectable .301/.370/.432 – marks well above his career line of .278/.348/.381. Injuries have been his biggest issue – which ultimately contributed to his 50-game suspension for PED usage a few years’ back – so his durability remains a concern for the Bucs.
His counterpart, Stewart, has always been a below-average contributor with the bat – but last season, he performed well above-average for Pittsburgh, hitting nearly 70 points above his career average. Most don’t expect him to contribute at that level again in 2015, but he’s always been solid with the glove – so he suffices as a back-up option for manager Clint Hurdle.
This team has the offense it needs to compete, led by Andrew McCutchen, Josh Harrison, Neil Walker and others; the work of Cervelli and Stewart, which, as noted, is more defensive-minded, is exactly what this team needs moving forward into 2015.
And, should the duo stutter early on, odds are options like Navarro or the Cubs’ Welington Castillo will still be available. But for now, Neal Huntington should stay the course and keep the ship on course.