By Jason Shetler
Russell Martin was a huge part in helping the Pirates contend in 2013 and 2014. Based on his significant contributions both offensively and defensively during those two years, Martin was far and away the best catcher on the free agent market this past offseason. The Pirates chances of re-signing the veteran catcher was going to be very difficult, especially with having multiple teams looking to make substantial offers. The Toronto Blue Jays made Martin an offer he couldn’t refuse, as he signed a five-year deal worth $82 million.
Shortly before the Jays inked Martin, the Pirates found their new catcher by acquiring Francisco Cervelli from the New York Yankees in exchange for Justin Wilson. Cervelli had spent parts of seven seasons as the Yankees backup catcher. Most thought Cervelli to be a major downgrade based simply on Martin’s impact in Pittsburgh. During the offseason, I considered Cervelli to be the Pirates version of a “Moneyball” player for 2015, because of having decent numbers for a backup and looking for an opportunity to play regularly. Not to mention he was due to make under $1 million in the process. Cervelli has played 35 games for the Pirates, and here are his numbers to this point.
.308/.377/.393, 113 OPS+, 1.0 WAR, 27% caught stealing (29% league average)
Cervelli has been above average offensively so far hitting over .300. Coming into this season, Cervelli’s career on base percentage was .348. He’s been terrific in that department thus far, posting a .377 on base, which is second best among all Major League catchers right now. Behind the plate, Cervelli has been slightly below average throwing out runners, but it’s not as if teams are running at will on him. His 1.0 WAR currently makes him a valuable asset. No one should have expected Cervelli to be an upgrade over Martin, but to Cervelli’s credit, he’s certainly looking like a very serviceable replacement.