Finding a match between the Pirates and Yanks

Jesus Montero and ZiPS
What Went Right: Andruw Jones & Eric Chavez
(Scott Cunningham/Getty)

The offseason is officially right around the corner, which means lots of trade speculation and free agent rumors and all that fun stuff. We might as well get a jump on things by discussing something Joel Sherman mentioned yesterday, that the Pirates “have prioritized finding a catcher this offseason.” Pittsburgh recently announced that they plan on cutting ties with the injury-plagued duo of Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder, opening up their catcher’s job. Former fourth overall pick Tony Sanchez hit a speed bump by posting a weak .306 wOBA in 469 plate appearances at Double-A this summer, and the rest of their catching crop (Mike McKenry, Jason Jaramillo, and former Yankee farmhand Eric Fryer) are nothing to write home about.

Since the Yankees actually have some catching to spare, young catching at that, it makes them a potential trade match with the Buccos. We know the two teams seriously discussed a Frankie Cervelli-Brad Lincoln swap before the trade deadline, plus Brian Cashman and Neal Huntington have gotten together for three trades in the last four years, so it stands to reason that there’s a decent working relationship in place there. The question is what do the Pittsburgh have that fills a need for New York?

Obviously, it’s all about pitching for the Yankees, starting pitching in particular. They’re not going to get a starter for Cervelli, not after yet another concussion, but there’s also Austin Romine to consider. He’s definitely a trade chip as well. The problem is that the Pirates don’t have much pitching to offer, and in fact they’re going to be in the market for some this winter just like the Yankees. Dig through their 40-man roster, and there’s only two arms worth even a second though: Charlie Morton and James McDonald. This is coming from a guy that loves Jeff Locke too.

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

By almost every metric, Morton was Pittsburgh’s best pitcher this past season. He managed a 3.77 FIP across 171.2 IP because he didn’t give up any homers (0.31 HR/9, lowest in MLB), the result of him reinventing himself as a sinkerballing Roy Halladay look alike (58.5% ground ball rate). He only struck out 110 batters in those 171.2 IP (5.77 K/9), and 23 of those 110 strikeouts came against pitchers. His unintentional walk rate (3.77 uIBB/9) isn’t anything special either. Morton’s still pretty young (28 in November) and cheap (MLBTR projects a $2.2M salary his first time through arbitration this winter), so there’s always a chance he could improve as he gains more experience with his new Halladay-esque delivery.

Huntington flat out stole McDonald from the Dodgers, getting five years of him (and another prospect!) for two months of Octavio Dotel at last year’s trade deadline. He’s a much different pitcher than Morton, more of a strikeout (7.47 K/9) and fly ball (38.9% grounders) guy. He gave up a ton of homers last year (1.26 HR/9) and compounded the problem by walking a lot of guys (3.89 uIBB/9). His career numbers, not that he’s been around all that long, are almost identical to what he did in 2011. McDonald just turned 27 and is still in his pre-arbitration years, and although I’ve liked him ever since he was being mismanaged in Los Angeles, he’s not going to step in and unquestionably solidify the rotation. Neither of these guys will really, especially not in the AL East.

Having an abundance of MLB ready or near-MLB ready catching is a definite luxury the Yankees enjoy, and it figures to be their primary currency when making trades. There’s no reason to sell low on Cervelli (following the concussion) or trade away Romine for questionable pitching help, or even bullpen help at this point. I can see why the Pirates would have interest in some of the Yankees young backstops, but they’re not going to want to trade one of their better starters for catching help (not necessarily straight up, just as framework for a deal I mean). There’s not enough incentive for the Yankees to make a move given what Pittsburgh has to offer.

Jesus Montero and ZiPS
What Went Right: Andruw Jones & Eric Chavez
  • nsalem

    Yankees are holding the cards I hope they let the market come to them. There’s no rush sometimes doing nothing is the best thing..

    • http://yes jim

      I wouldn’t trade with the Pirates at all. They haven’t come out on top in a trade with them since Willie Randolph.

  • JobaWockeeZ

    Rudy Owens and Justin Wilson are interesting as LHP.

  • Anchen

    That guys motion really does look like Halladay’s. If only he had the stuff. Pretty nasty ground ball rate though but the other peripherals aren’t too good. Especially the walk rate could get ugly out of the NL Central.

    McDonald doesn’t look particularly good either, with that walk rate and and decent but not exceptional I would say K rate. How does his raw stuff rate?

    That being said, if we get either one of those guys I’m not sure if that is necessarily “selling low” on Cervelli, although I don’t know if these are the type of starting pitcher we should be looking for. But especially if it helps clear Montero as backup catcher behind Martin instead of giving more at bats to Frankie I’d be for it. I think Cervelli is an occasionally nice backup Catcher but I don’t think he’s a legit starter and if he blocks Montero that’s a bigger issue.

  • Ted Nelson

    Definitely an interesting potential match, but agree there might not be a match. Especially because I don’t think Pittsburgh is trading their top pitcher from 2011 for Frankie Cervelli. Possibly Romine, but that’s still dubious. Cervelli might be attractive to Pittsburgh because he’s a cheap, immediate stop-gap to Sanchez (who I’m sure they still have pretty high hopes).

    Maybe bringing back up the Cervelli-Lincoln talks would still be a match.

  • Donnie23

    Meh. Any of these guys better than what the Yanks already have in their pen and down in AAA?

    I think they should look to improve their Milb OF depth. Pass on the pitchers.

  • nsalem

    We have plenty of pitching prospects who are either mlb ready or a year or so away. I wouldn’t trade anyone of value (this includes Cervelli) unless we are obtaining a #1 or #2. We may not fall into such an enviable position this year but If we do it will take many chips. There may be teams that have the pitching we want and they may want Cervelli as a catcher as part of a deal. I say hold till then. Starting the season with 3 catchers and Romine in triple A isn’t the worse thing in the world. and no Cervelli shouldn’t take time away from Montero.

    • Ted Nelson

      So you would not trade Cervelli if some team offered what you consider to be a #3 starter straight-up, but you also wouldn’t play Cervelli as the back-up C?

      • BJ

        Brad Lincoln is barely a #3 in the NL Central. He’d be a minor leaguer in the AL East.

        • Ted Nelson

          Who said Brad Lincoln was a #3? You’re confusing one comment I made with another. They have nothing to do with each other. What I would trade Cervelli for is not what nsalem would trade Cervelli for.

          I was responding to nsalem’s comment, and he did not mention Lincoln once that I see. nsalem said: “I wouldn’t trade anyone of value (this includes Cervelli) unless we are obtaining a #1 or #2.” That clearly implies that nsalem would not trade Cervelli for a #3, no?

      • nsalem

        If it was someone that was perceived to be better than than whoever our number 3 is now I would do it in a second. If it is someone that is a question mark I feel we have enough of those already. My point is that the most value we can get from Cervelli as part of a deal with a team who wants Cervelli as a 1st string ctatcher and who for whatever reason has to move a top of the rotation guy. Cervelli would probably be one of four or five in this type of trade and would be one of the bottom pieces. I also think that there is room on the Yankees to start the season with 3 catchers considering the question marks about Montero’s defense. Maybe he (Cervelli) gets a start every ten days or so and serves as a defensive replacement fot Montero in close games.

        • Ted Nelson

          I’m not necessarily set on trading Cervelli or anything, and it would definitely depend completely on the value they’re getting in return. For what I considered to be a more valuable piece I’d make the trade. I haven’t seen much Brad Lincoln so I don’t have a real opinion on him, but he’s probably more the type of guy to get for Cervelli: upside, but a team might be willing to trade him for Cervelli because there’s also lots of downside. If the Yankees pro scouts (who have done a great job lately in terms of results) see him as a hidden gem ready to break out with a few adjustments it might be a wise risk. I don’t see why a team would trade an established #3 for Cervelli really, but I would jump on that deal in all likelihood. If nothing else that #3 could have more trade value in a subsequent deal.

          I just don’t know if there’s much difference in including Cervelli in that top-of-the-rotation package you’re talking about vs. Romine. I’m sure different people have different opinions on their relative values and Romine’s AAA performance will probably play into it fairly heavily, but I don’t really see a situation arising where a team doesn’t deal a top starter because they’re getting Romine rather than Cervelli.

          I also think they can carry 3 Cs, but Cervelli’s playing time then comes directly out of either Montero’s and/or Martin’s (besides any 2B or 3B or maybe even OF playing time if any). I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, but you said you did on the Montero side.

          • Ted Nelson

            And to clarify I don’t mean Lincoln is an established #3. I mean Lincoln is the sort of guy you might get, and if you get better than a Lincoln type (i.e. a solid #3 or #4… meaning better value today than Lincoln… though of course depending on your take on Lincoln and that guy maybe you expect better value from Lincoln down the line) that could be a good deal for the Yankees.

            • nsalem

              Wouldn’t do it. I think we need Cervelli now more than we need a Brad Lincoln. If everybody is healthy Cervelli has a small but important use to the Yankees as Martin insurance and a late inning defensive replacement for Montero (if he is indeed as poor as some report. We will find out soon enough) I think we have little use for a Lincoln who may miss bats but has done nothing on the MLB level and for that matter hasn’t done much in triple A. Cervelli value will be enhanced if he remains healthy (?) and another contending team loses a front line catcher (like the Giants did last year) and someone is needed to hold the fort for a couple of months or for a weaker team that sees him as a long term solution as a catcher then Cervelli becomes a replaceable chip for someone we really need. The Yankees just need to fine tune right now and they should do it at their leisure.

              • Ted Nelson

                Yeah, I think Lincoln (or that type of profile) is debatable. My question is really about better than Lincoln, using Lincoln as sort of a par value.

                The idea with the Lincoln, though, would be a guy the Yankees brass is very high on going forward. I am not at all suggesting rushing out and trading Cervelli for any pitcher with upside who is available. I am specifically saying that they would be doing it at their leisure: getting a young arm they are higher on than his own teams and his historical stats and than they are on Cervelli. Best-ish case maybe a Edwin Jackson to Tampa type deal. No idea if that’s Lincoln, just throwing it out there given the rumors and his draft status.

                Romine could fill some of the roles you mention (3rd C in case of injury), while others (late inning defensive replacement for your back-up C that would also potentially take one of your most dangerous bats out of the line-up) don’t seem to have much value. Some value, but not much.

                • nsalem

                  I think bench strength is important and a healthy Cervelli would supply that.
                  I’ve seen Lincoln only a couple of times and don’t know enough about him. All I know is he’s a former first round pick who has a decent K rate and otherwise haven’t lived up to expectations. If the Yankee brass believes the upside is their to be a number 3, it may be worth the gamble. It’s just that we do have so many guys in our pipeline. Noesi has shown to some extent that he can hold his own in the AL East and we have several other pitchers who are very close who are projected to be good or better than Noesi. You must admit our pitching future seems quite bright.

                  • Ted Nelson

                    Yeah, I don’t think it’s obvious that they need to trade Cervelli for pitching by any means. I just think that if they can get what they feel is better value it could be a good move, in large part because they’re going to need 5+ SPs and only 1.5 Cs most seasons. It’s certainly a risk, but it’s a risk in both directions: you might regret trading Cervelli, but you also might regret passing on the trade target (Lincoln or whoever).

                  • Chris

                    The Pirates would never trade Lincoln for Cervelli in a million years. Lincoln actually has potential and value and Cervelli’s best season was only .7 WAR.
                    Cervelli for Aaron Pribanic or Quincy Latimore is a more logical match.

  • Monteroisdinero

    I’d trade Cervelli and his no power and centerfield throws for any healthy arm on the Pirates major league roster as long as that pitcher makes our roster and is healthy.

    If not, just teach Phil Hughes how to command his curve and change, sign CC and we don’t have to make any trades for pitching.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      You forgot to mention “And fix AJ Burnett” to your “to-do” list. :-)

      • Monteroisdinero

        AJ=too old to fix

        • Ted Nelson

          He’s a lot younger than Bartolo Colon. It’s unlikely he bounces back significantly, but certainly not impossible.

          • Monteroisdinero

            Stem cells cannot fix mental case.

            • Jesse


            • Ted Nelson

              It’s an example. Tons of different players have bounce back years or just one-year wonder years.

              Your theory that it’s mental, if correct, would make it a lot easier to fix than a physical decline.

              • Monteroisdinero

                Not with stem cells! Mental instability is not easy to fix.

                AJ has electric stuff but short circuits between the ears way too often.

  • SRB

    Cervelli, while a hustler who is easy to pull for, is a light hitting catcher who can’t throw runners out and is one collision away from an early retirement- If the Pirates were willing, I’d trade him for Dan McCutcheon back- That would also allow the Yanks to “consider” trading Joba in a package for some starting pitching- Just a thought

    • pat

      Pitchers coming off TJ typically have close to no trade value, especially relievers.

    • Ted Nelson

      Cervelli actually hits very respectively for a C.

      • Cris Pengiucci

        I think you mean “respectably”.

        • Ted Nelson


  • Rich

    We have to have a Cervelli type player on the bench. He’s cheap, can hit .250 and is adequate behind the plate. If Martin gets hurt during a game with Montero DHing we lose our Dh and have no backup catcher. We need someone like Cervelli who can catch in a bind.

    • Ted Nelson

      Worst case the Yankees lose one game they could have won either because a P/PH is hitting instead of Cervelli or a bench player is Cing (leaving Montero at DH). At this point Cervelli is a perfectly respectable bench player, and they might not be able to get better value between a trade + replacement bench player. However, it’s also possible that they could get more value out of the bench spot + trade return… possibly more than the win they might leave on the table in the worst case if they don’t have a 3rd C.

  • SRB

    Didn’t know McCutcheon was coming of TJ- my bad

    • JohnnyC

      Did you know Joba had TJS this summer?

  • Heisenberg

    Three team deal:

    Yankees get John Danks

    Pirates get Austin Romine + Dellin Betances

    White Sox get Pedro Alvarez + Jeff Locke

    • Red “The Strawman” Herring

      I think we’re all glad that you’re not the GM of the Yankees. You just traded a top catching prospect and one of our best young, cost-controlled arms for a 26 year old lefty that was about as consistent as AJ Burnett last year. With that said, the Pirates are interested in speaking to you if you can get them that haul.

      • Ted Nelson

        Ehhh… No.

        Danks is far better than Burnett. He was a 3.2 fWAR SP last season, and has averaged 3.9 fWAR the past four seasons. Burnett has been at 1.5 fWAR the past two seasons. Inconsistent, maybe, but far better.

        You are overvaluing the Yankees prospects. Romine is a fringe starting C prospect who couldn’t hit AA pitching particularly well his second time through the level, while there are serious questions about whether Betances is a starter or reliever long-term.

      • Heisenberg

        LOL You don’t know anything about baseball ABLOOBLOO

    • Johnny O

      This actually seems reasonable for all sides. Not sure if the White Sox would want either of those guys but worth a shot. Would prefer more than 1 year of Danks but so be it.

  • LeftyLarry

    SOunds like this needs to be a 3 team deal like the Granderson trade.
    Pirates give up young hitters and pitchers, YAnkees give up a top catching prospect like Romine and whatever and a 3rd team gives the Yankees a #2 type starter with a healthy contract.

    • Ted Nelson

      A 3 team deal would definitely be worth exploring. However, Romine is more likely to be the “whatever” than “top prospect” for a #2 starter.

  • vin

    Fangraphs had a very interesting two-part interview with Brandon McCarthy. He’s another guy who decided to look to the game’s best pitcher for inspiration.

  • Joel

    I’d take the wait and see attitude right now. We’re dealing from a position of strength with 3 viable catchers. Since we’re really just looking for one starting pitcher, time is on our side. Signing CC after he opts out, should be our number one priority.

    • LeftyLarry

      next few years, Yankees will have 5-6 viable catchers, then the riches become a problem.
      Need a 3 team deal to get VALUE for at least one of them now.

      • Ted Nelson

        They MAY have 5-6 viable Cs. They may have none. Martin is a FA, Montero’s ability to C is a question mark, Cervelli isn’t a strong starter and his health is a serious question, Romine can’t hit AA pitching particularly well, Sanchez can’t block a ball to save his life and is light-years away, and Murphy is also in A-ball.

        They can wait-and-see if they get value for Cervelli this off-season… that was Joel’s point that you responded to. If they don’t get an offer they consider to be good value for Cervelli, they wouldn’t get “VALUE” for him…

        • Accent Shallow

          They MAY have 5-6 viable Cs. They may have none.

          Exactly. Remember when Texas had Laird as a starter and three top prospects playing C? Their three Cs in the playoffs this year: Napoli, Torrealba, and Treanor . . . AKA none of those four. Nor did any of the prospects help them acquire those guys.

          So yeah, maybe Montero turns into Frank Thomas Playing Catcher, and Romine starts hitting. Or neither.

    • nsalem


  • Drew

    I don’t want anyone on the Pirates not named Andrew McCutchen. PASS!

    • Ted Nelson

      I’m sure Pittsburgh fans aren’t starting facebook groups lobbying the Bucs to get Cervelli either… He’s a respectable MLB C (with serious health concerns), but he’s not great. Even Romine isn’t all that exciting.

  • Jesse

    I’d consider a Morton for Romine trade.

  • Mark L

    Have them pick up Maholm’s option and then trade him and Garrett Jones to us for Cervelli and filler. We get a decent LHSP on a 1-year deal and a Hinske clone for the bench.

  • Joe K

    Question: How soon after drafting a player can he be traded?

    Why not put together a package for Gerrit Cole? Pitchers of his calibar can be MLB ready within 2 years so the Pirates can get a catcher and bunch of prospects now for a potential ace who’s a few years out.

    • S

      Cole can’t be traded this soon after being drafted.

    • Jesse

      He can’t be traded now, but what would you give up to get Cole?

  • Chris

    Realistically, Cervelli has little value. With the up and coming prospects, Cervelli doesn’t even have a chance to start at AAA next season. The fact that he was almost traded for Lincoln tells you exactly what the return will be. Another hopeful reclamation project. If it doesn’t work out than it only cost a backup AAA catcher.

    Disclaimer- I hate his fist pumps.

    • Jesse


      I like the fist pumps. I like the emotion he brings to the Yankees. But yeah, he has very little value.

      • Ted Nelson

        It’s all relative. His value isn’t that high, but he does have value. He’s a bad starter or good back-up C overall.

  • Eric

    If the pirates believe montero is a catcher, would does mccutchen for montero make sense?

    • j6takish

      Nobody believes Montero is a catcher and even if he was, McCutchen is an infinitely more valuable player since he plays a premium position, and no offense to Montero….has larger sample size of success. Keep dreaming