Yesterday, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starting catcher Francisco Cervelli told the Venezuelan newspaper La Verdad that several teams had inquired as to his availability but that, to his knowledge, the Yankees had no interest in making a move. As MLB Trade Rumors points out, this isn’t the first time Cervelli’s name has come up in trade discussion. And while’s the young catcher claims to be completely focused on improving his output at the plate, one could have their doubts.
Cervelli, 26, has spent all of the 2012 season thus far at AAA and his situation can best be described as “languishing.” In 115 trips to the plate, Cervelli is hitting .217 with just four extra base hits. He’s struck out more than three times as often as he has walked, and hasn’t hit a home run for Scranton in nearly three years. Since making his debut in late 2008, on the heals of a .308 batting average and .411 OBP at multiple levels after recovering from a devastating injury, Cervelli has struggled mightily in the minor leagues.
It would be enough to make us question whether 2007-2008 was a complete fluke, if not for Cervelli’s surprisingly strong output at the big league level. In 489 at bats in the Major League’s, Cervelli has a fairly strong .272 batting average. He clubbed four home runs last season, equalling his total over the 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons combined at every level. His .719 OPS was just 9% worse than the league average, and certainly a decent figure for a backup catcher. While his walks were down last season, 2010 was proof that yes, he can take pitches at the big league level as he did in his early minor league career. While Cervelli has work to do defensively, his skills are off the charts behind the plate. It was his calling card even as he hit .300 in the low minor leagues.
It thus makes sense that the Yankees would like to hold onto Cervelli. He’s a talented player, probably not a starter but the kind of low cost temporary replacement that has plenty of value. Yet when examining the team’s short and long term needs at the position and their treatment of Cervelli, there is a slight disconnect. With numerous talented catchers in the system and a payroll higher than any other in baseball Cervelli is unlikely to start for the Yankees in the long run. If the depth develops as expected he may even find himself elsewhere as a backup. In the short term – with a middle of the road, banged up, aging starter – Cervelli could have plenty of value. But not sitting in AAA. That’s doing him and the Yankees few favors. After coming to the plate more often this spring than any other Yankee catcher – and hitting at a mediocre level, though well within his margin of error over the sample size – Cervelli was sent to Scranton and the Yankees brought in Chris Stewart to back up Russel Martin.
Stewart, 30, is a career .203 hitter with an OPS+ of 38 on the season. Martin, 29, is hitting .167 and resembling more closely the Martin of late Dodgers days than of early Dodgers days, or of last season. While Stewart has done well catching CC Sabathia, the Yankees lefty nearly won a Cy Young award with Russell Martin last season and over such a sample size I doubt whatever credit Stewart deserves behind the plate completely balances the automatic out at the bottom of the lineup. Martin has done some things well this season – he’s walked, and shown off a bit of power – but hitting under .200 is simply not acceptable. This is a team in a bit of trouble – not a perfect team heading into the season, and certainly not a perfect team today – and if Cervelli could hit like he did in 2010 or last season it would help to get him at bats at the Major League level. The Yankees just need to decide whether he’s in their plans.
If he’s not, Cervelli should be traded. He has value now but keeping him at AAA is doing little good. For a player with the better part of three seasons in the big leagues under his belt, Cervelli has shown a clear lack of motivation at the lower level. Like it or not, he’s not focused on performing in Scranton. Cervelli wants to be back in the big leagues and could be in the big leagues for plenty of teams. Plenty of teams could use – and would pay for – a young catcher who can hit .270, get on base a little, has a tiny bit of pop, and has great defensive skills. Depth is great, but a journeyman catcher could fill the role of AAA callup option. If the Yankees were willing to move Cervelli, it’s not out of the question that a better starting catcher to be had and that Martin could be moved to the bench temporarily. A package of prospects, including a young catcher like Cervelli, might fetch a player like Jonathon Lucroy or AJ Pierzynski if their respective teams were to fall further out of contention by June.
It makes little sense to keep a non-prospect who is not in your current plans, and may very well not be in your future plans, if said current prospect has signficant value on the open market and could be included in a package for a player to help your team – be it a catcher, pitcher, outfielder, infielder, or what have you. There are plenty of journeyman catchers out their. Cervelli has actual value and should be treated as such. If the Yankees do want to develop a long term backup catching option, or if they think Cervelli can help this team this season (and I think he can) they need to get him out of AAA. Chris Stewart is nothing special. Martin, who may very well dig himself out of this hole, is nonetheless far from a superstar. Cervelli isn’t a special player but I think he could help this team. He’s doing little to help himself, his trade value, or the 2012 Yankees sitting in AAA Scranton.
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