The Pittsburgh Pirates have plenty of options going forward this offseason. The team has already begun to add, but could also look to deal.
As of right now, the Pittsburgh Pirates may have the best catcher tandem in the National League Central, if not the entire National League. Their “starting” catcher is currently Francisco Cervelli. Meanwhile, back up Elias Diaz finally made an impact at the big league level during 2018 and has positioned himself to see an increased role next season.
With that being said, if the Pittsburgh Pirates decided to increase Elias Diaz’s role, the team will have to take away playing time from Fransisco Cervelli. The issue with that is that Cervelli is the team’s highest-paid player. Meanwhile, Diaz is making minimum salary. The Pittsburgh Pirates are not going to pay Cervelli the highest salary on the team to split time. If Diaz is trending toward taking over the job next season, then there is no real reason to keep Cervelli here.
This seems likely that Cervelli could be moved this offseason. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports has reported that the team is listening on Cervelli and opposing teams are interested. While there are plenty of free agent catchers and trade options such as Russel Martin available, Cervelli’s one year contract at $11.5 million could be attractive to a team.
For instance, Russell Martin is due $20 million next season and is less productive than Cervelli. Also, anyone who would be better than or equivalent to Cervelli on the free agent market has already signed. The top free agent is Yasmani Grandal who will command a much higher salary and multi-years. After Grandal, the best option available is Wilson Ramos, in which Cervelli is still a better option.
One team that is looking to upgrade at the catching position is the Houston Astros. The Astros are believed to have interest in J.T. Realmuto, but right now are not willing to meet the Miami Marlins high demands. Also, the Astros lost catcher Brian McCann to free agency leaving just Max Stassi on their current roster. Meanwhile, Stassi projects to be more of a backup catcher.
So what could the Astros offer the Pittsburgh Pirates that would interest the Bucs? Well, let’s look at the value Cervelli has in the trade. Using the $8.5 million/1.0 fWAR, and Cervelli’s projection of trade value worth is around $10-11 million. While this is not a ton of value, the Bucs still should be able to bring back a solid piece that can help them this upcoming season.
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The player that would make sense for the Pittsburgh Pirates would be lefty pitcher Cionel Perez. Perez has a future value of 50 according to Fangraphs. He carries a trade value of $12-13 million, so he has about the same value as Cervelli does. Also, with the Astros currently in their World Series window, they will be more inspired to bring in a proven impact player now rather than to see how a young lefty reliever does through his first full year.
Perez ranks as the Houston Astros number five prospect and made his debut last year. He is just 22 years of age and has six years of control left. He has pitched as both a starter and reliever through the minors, but pitched out of the bullpen last year. His fastball hits as high as 96 miles per hour and he apparently has a plus breaking pitch as well.
For the Pittsburgh Pirates, it makes sense for numerous reasons. First, they are getting a pitcher who can help them this year while cutting a large contract that is expiring. Also, they are getting a much-needed left-hander for either their starting rotation or bullpen. Right now the team’s best left-handed option is Steven Brault, who has not been able to find sustained success at the big league level. Perez, on the other hand, has not had much big league experience but was dominant striking out over 10 batters per nine innings pitched last year at both Double-A and Triple-A. Meanwhile, Perez would bring a power arm from the left side and worst case will be a solid left-handed arm out of the bullpen.
For the Astros, they get a solid everyday catcher who not only is a consistent offensive player who gets on base a lot, but also very good at handling a starting staff. He is a short-term option that does not make the team invest a long-term deal in one of the mediocre free agents or taking a big risk in a contract by signing Grandal. Plus, to acquire Cervelli it will not come close to the cost the Marlins want for Realmuto.
While Perez could be a nice piece from the Astros bullpen, they already have another left-handed option with just as much team control in Reymin Guduan. However, as mentioned earlier, the Astros are in a win now mode and could bring in a free agent, such as Tony Sipp, who was dominant last year and pitched for Houston. There are also plenty of other high-end left-handed options on the market that the Astros could sign.
While a deal has not been reported in the works, if one connects the dots the Astros and Pirates lineup on a deal. As of now, the Astros seem focused on Realmuto, however, they are balking at the asking price and the Marlins do not have to change their demands as they do not have to trade him. Cervelli represents an attainable catcher at a cheaper rate that the Bucs are ready to deal for the right return.