Valuing Francisco Cervelli

Valuing Eduardo Nunez
More CBA madness: Draft pool even smaller than expected
(Nam Y. Huh/AP)

The Yankees’ deep catching corps could start paying off soon. Two of their young catchers, Jesus Montero and Austin Romine, have already made their Major League debuts. Both of their names have surfaced in various trade rumors and speculations, and there is a chance that the Yankees could trade one this off-season in a deal for an impact pitcher. If that impact pitcher does not surface, or if the Yankees find the price prohibitive, they can use their catching depth in other ways. Given a few recent deals, they might have another catcher of value on the roster.

Despite his status as occasional punchline at RAB, Francisco Cervelli is not a bad player. At time his play frustrates. Many of his mistakes seem boneheaded and avoidable; his throws are often inaccurate to the point of hilarity; and it appears he stabs at pitches and drags them back over the plate, which is the poorest of framing methods. While those do hinder what could be a better overall game, Cervelli does provide some value. In the last two seasons, as the Yankees’ primary backup catcher, he has produced a .317 wOBA, which is only slightly below league average. That includes a .348 OBP, which ranks 13th among all catchers with at least 450 PA*.

*An admittedly arbitrary sample size which Cervelli barely fulfills.

With the possibility of Montero fulfilling the backup catcher role while also DHing, and with the further possibility of Romine transitioning to the bigs as a backup, Cervelli could be expendable. He might be a tough sell at this point, given the frequency and recency of his concussion history. Still, he’s been pronounced fully recovered, and it sounds as though he’ll be raring to go for spring training. He might end up reporting to a location other than Tampa for it.

In the past week or so, two catchers have changed teams in relatively minor deals. First the Marlins traded John Baker to the Padres for Wade LeBlanc. Then, yesterday, the Rays traded John Jaso to the Mariners for Josh Lueke. The returns might not be overwhelming, but both the Marlins and the Rays realized returns for catchers similar to Cervelli. Jaso might seem superior, because he produced quality numbers in 2010. But his 2011 negated much of that. The result is a .318 wOBA (101 wRC+) in 687 career PA. Baker has been around a while, but injuries have hindered his career. In 760 career PA he has a .333 wOBA (99 wRC+). Both of them, then, are average hitters who are both at least two years older than Cervelli (.308 wOBA, 85 wRC+ in 560 PA).

A few teams could remain in need of a catcher. Minnesota might want a caddy for Joe Mauer who is a bit better than Drew Butera (.215 wOBA, 28 wRC+ in 409 career PA). Anaheim has been on the market for a catcher who can hit better than Jeff Mathis (.246 wOBA, 45 wRC+ in 1360 career PA). Houston could use someone younger and better than Humberto Quintero (.258 wOBA, 54 wRC+ in 1137 PA). LA might need someone now that Rod Barajas has gone (does Matt Treanor actually count?). Colorado has reportedly been mulling the idea of signing Ramon Hernandez and trading Chris Iannetta. Perhaps they’d be amenable to trading for Cervelli instead. That’s a considerable list, and it includes only the obvious candidates. Cervelli would almost certainly perform better than any of their current options.

The issue with trading Cervelli is the same one that Mike found when valuing Eduardo Nunez: is Cervelli worth more to the Yankees or to another team? As a Yankee he provides some experience as a backup catcher, allowing them to work in Jesus Montero at his own pace. It also allows them to give Austin Romine some time at AAA. He also ensures a certain level of depth in the system. Is that worth more to the Yankees than what they could get on the trade market? Judging by the Jaso and Baker trades, the Yankees might not find much to their liking.

Wade LeBlanc, who went to the Marlins in the Baker deal, is a soft-tossing lefty with a poor ground ball rate. He’s had success in limited runs, but even pitching in the spacious confines of Petco Park did little to aid his home run rate. At age-27 there’s little hope he’ll reach a level significantly above replacement. Josh Lueke has a bit more promise as a strikeout reliever. He posted quality minor league numbers at many levels, including AAA. Yet even with his promise Lueke comes with plenty of personal baggage, which obviously reduces his value. That is to say that neither Baker nor Jaso fetched much in a trade. That could tip the scales towards the Yankees keeping Cervelli.

I the Yankees want to cash in on Cervelli, chances are they’ll have to sell him as part of a bigger package. They could probably shop him on his own to a few teams, but they might not realize much in return. As a second or third chip in a larger deal, however, he could prove valuable. At the same time, that makes a deal less likely; the Yankees would have to find a player they really liked on a team that needs a catcher, and base the offer around another player. Chances are, then, that Cervelli provides more value to the Yankees than he does on the market. Which is just fine. Minus some boneheaded mistakes, he’s actually provided some decent value for the Yanks in the last two years.

Valuing Eduardo Nunez
More CBA madness: Draft pool even smaller than expected
  • nsalem

    Looking forward to readers comments, This should be fun!!!!

  • Plank

    I think the concussion situation should garner more than a mention. Three concussions and 2 in the past year of play send up a serious red flag for me. Especially for a catcher.

    I had a similar thought when I saw the Jaso trade, but due to the injury risk, I think Cervelli has less value.

  • Fin

    I dont think hes going anywhere. I have my doubts that Montero is going to be the DH/BUC. I think hes going to be the DH and Cervilli will be the back up for another year, while Romaine develops in AAA.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    You can eliminate the Twins as possible suitors as they already have Butera, Mauer and they just signed Doumit a short time ago. The White Sox might be able to use him as a back up, maybe the Marlins. Some people might say that when he caught CC the latter did better than with Martin but that is hard to prove. In any case I don’t see a long term future for Cervelli on this team.

    • Ted Nelson

      Doumit is such an awful defensive C that unless they’ve publicly said he’s Cing I wouldn’t be surprised if they plan on using him as a replacement to Cuddyer or a sort of corner-UTL guy.

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      I wouldn’t cross out Minny, really. Butera can’t hit, and Doumit can’t catch.

  • Matt :: Sec110

    He’s def got more value to the Yanks than other teams. That being said, I wonder, for his sake mostly, should he be converted into a utility infielder due to all his concussions.

    It also helps because the Yanks have a bunch of catchers coming, but head injuries are nothing to mess with, as a Ranger fan we know this with Staal.

    • thenamestsam

      I can’t ever see him as a utility infielder. He would never be able to play short, and his defense at 2nd and 3rd would probably never rise above awful. It’s just not that easy to reach a major league caliber of fielding, even for someone who is quite athletic and who probably played those spots growing up. With those limitations he’d have to hit quite well to have any value, since you’d have to carry another utility infielder type to back up short, meaning that Cervelli would have to be enough better than him at 3rd and 2nd to justify the use of the extra roster spot. I just can’t see it.

  • Rich in NJ

    Cash has admitted that they rushed him from an offensive standpoint and that he could have used more mL AB. I think he has a better chance of reaching his ceiling if he started the season at AAA. If they do that, they can reassess what to do with him at midseason, at which time they will have a better read on Montero’s defensive-readiness and Martin ability to stay healthy.

    • Ted Nelson

      I would be pretty surprised if Cervelli spends much time in AAA in 2012… With Romine there and his already having pretty significant MLB experience. Wouldn’t be against it, necessarily. Could be in his best interest. I would just be surprised. Guess that’s also in large part because I’m skeptical that the Yankees will use Montero much at C after calling him up and barely Cing him. I could be totally wrong there, though. If Montero is getting significant time at C, I could see Cervelli in AAA making a lot more sense.

  • Ted Nelson

    Will be interesting to see… Could certainly see the right deal coming along, but I’d guess it’s more likely that he at least starts the season with the Yankees. Leave Romine down for a while and see if Cervelli can clear up the health concerns a little bit.

  • CP

    That includes a .348 OBP, which ranks 13th among all catchers with at least 450 PA*.

    *An admittedly arbitrary sample size which Cervelli barely fulfills.

    FWIW, he only drops to 18th over the last two seasons even if you drop the cutoff all the way down to 50PA for catchers. The players that come out ahead of him with less than 450PA are:

    AJ Ellis .376 OBP, 231 PA
    Matt Pagnozzi .370 OBP, 78 PA
    Salvador Perez .361 OBP, 158 PA
    David Ross .360 OBP, 316 PA
    Gregg Zaun .350 OBP, 117 PA

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    Cervelli’s time with the Yankees could be numbered. He was a stop gap backup catcher for Posada and Martin. The problem is the fruit on the tree is getting ripe and needs to be picked. We’ll never know if Montero can catch at this level if he doesn’t get a chance. Montero’s offense should be productive enough to cover for some defensive mistakes. I’m looking 30-40 games behind the plate for the young guy.
    Romine is next up. Unless Romine is part of a package the only place that I see Cervelli is AAA. This is why I believe Cashman uses Cervelli as a major league ready catcher to enhance the bait in a trade proposal instead of the rookie Romine,hopefully.

    If Montero becomes a disaster in training then Montero is our fulltime DH and he has lost some value. But I believe he’ll be serviceable. More than Cervelli.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Largely agree, but I see Cervelli on the ML roster if not traded, with Romine (if not traded) in AAA. I think they’ll give Montero the 30-40 games you anticipate (or at least start the season with that plan), but I still think they’ll keep Cervelli on the roster as well.

      It would not surprise met at all if he were traded either before or during the season. I just don’t know if they’ll get an adequate return. And they probably don’t need what they’d be offered. Plenty of relievers already in the organization.

  • MattG

    On a micro-level, you certainly make a compelling argument for why Cervelli is more valuable to the Yankees than any other team.

    But on a macro-level, this makes no sense. Didn’t the Pirates give Barajas $4M? Don’t the Yankees have Martin, Montero, and Romine? I wonder if it isn’t more likely that their old teams undervalued Jaso and Baker. Demand is still high, supply is waning.

    P.S. The concussion topic is another entirely. I have to assume, like this article, that he is still a catcher.

  • Monteroisdinero

    I love all this stuff about Montero’s defensive readiness and Cervelli’s utility as security for it. Montero is better than folks think and Cervelli isn’t.

    Matt Wieters won the gold glove.

    Jorge Posada never did.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Matt Wieters won the gold glove.

      Jorge Posada never did.

      For this reason, I’m anxious to see Montero get a chance behind the plate. If he can fake it, you’ve got him and Martin now, with the potential of Romine and Montero in the future. I don’t see a long term spot for Cervelli.

    • Ted Nelson

      What do Matt Weiters and Jorge have to do with Jesus?

  • Monteroisdinero

    Without AJ pitching, what exactly are folks worried about with Montero’s defense? He was fine at Scranton and with his bat, doesn’t have to lead the league in caught stealing percentage. He even survived Brackman and Betances!

    He could be as good as Mike Napoli!!!

    Cervelli is likeable but expendable-more so than Nunez.

  • Bronx Byte

    With Montero, Romine and more to follow, Cervelli concussion issues raise flags for his Yankee future. If not for the catching depth, Cervelli might be a good backup.

  • Greg Price

    Offer Cervelli + Noesi to the ChiSox for John Danks. Cervelli could benefit from regular play and Noesi could slot in as a starter with the Sox, giving them salary relief. Both seem like odd men out on the Yankees anyway. The Yanks get a solid, consistent young starter without giving up any of their premier prospects. If Danks works out n 2012, re-sign him after the season. If not, he walks and the Yanks still have the B’s and co.

    • LiterallyFigurative

      I think the ChiSox would ask for more than just Cervelli and Noesi for Danks, even with his impending salary raises.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    I never understood the Cervelli hate here. It’s like if a Yankee prospect isn’t the best player ever, they have no value.

    Cervelli was rushed in 2009 when Posada and Molina were hurt. He played ok, wasn’t a great hitter, but made contact and was good in RISP, small sample be damned.

    Cervelli is an ok, backup type catcher. That is valuable in the bigs, due to injury and rest of the starter.

    I think in 2012, Cervelli should still be used as an emergency catcher, with some time as maybe a backup infielder. To me, he just fits what the team needs: energy and excitement from your bench on a team with straight-laced vets.

    He may not be part of the future for the long haul, but selling him for nothing would be foolish.

    • IBelieveInAJ


    • Preston

      Selling anything for nothing would be foolish, but if we can get something for Cervelli, I’d do it. We have Martin, Montero and Romine. Martin is better than Cervelli defensively and offensively, Montero is vastly better offensively, and Romine is better defensively. Plus if we need an emergency catcher we can stash a Gustavo Molina, Kevin Cash type in AAA just in case. If we can get a pitcher who can hold down a spot in our bullpen that has more value to us, given what we currently have at catcher than Cervelli.

      • Guillermo

        Cervelli has some value, maybe as stated, more to yankees than other clubs. Montero should play as often as possible. He can improve defensively-that is why Yankees should have coaches working with him now. His bat is good and will get better. Martin is much better defensively than Cervelli, but I rather have Cervelli hitting with runners on base. Martin is a wild swinger, always trying for the homerun.

  • IBelieveInAJ

    Every Yankees fan has their own favorite Cervelli hilarity moment, but we must not forget that he also provides a certain level of energy and heart that a lot of this team has lacked with the exception of Swish and a few others*.

    My favorite was when Cervy hit that grand slam on Mother’s Day in Texas. Just the excitement and passion he showed rounding the bases is a trait that carries some value. He has handled the pitching staffs fairly well and even though may not be the strongest option for back-up catcher, he does carry some very legitimate value.

    *A-rod and his “whatever man it’s about the team” BS, Teixeira’s “well we just gotta tip our caps to them” crap, Jeter doing everything like a robot 100% business like with no emotion anymore yada yada yada.

    I remember Gardner stuck out last year (can’t remember the game) for the last out and he ferociously slammed his bat down in frustration. I loved seeing that energy and heart. Robby and Grady are always smiling and laughing and joking around, and Swisher is well…Swisher. The Yankees need some more character.

    As Brandon Tierney tweeted following David Freese’s Game 6 walk-off, “Nothing turns grown men into boys quite like baseball”

    • IBelieveInAJ


    • RetroRob

      Jeter doesn’t provide “heart,” whatever that means?

  • cranky

    Whatever Cervelli’s “trade value” may be, he’s certainly not going to be either a centerpiece or a stumbling block in any deal.
    To me, these are the players with some value Cashman is going to be willing to deal this winter: Betances, Laird, Romine, Cervelli, Murphy, Warren, Phelps, Noesi, Mitchell, and (if he signs a FA OF) Swisher.
    Banuelos gets traded ONLY in a deal for another young lefty (like Danks or Gonzales).

  • RetroRob

    He appears to “stab at pitches,” yet didn’t the recent Mike Fast study on catchers’ framing skills show Cervelli as a net positive?

    The Yankees will have no problem moving Cervelli if that’s their goal. A cheap, young catcher with MLB experience in a big market who can get on base will find plenty of takers. Yet as noted, what’s the value to the Yankees?

  • Tom

    Eomine is simply not ready…. I think the Yankees see how his bat holds up in AAA and that may influence what they do with Martin as a FA next offseason. He also may make better trade bait with a full season in the minors than playing very sporadically in the majors and getting a handful of AB’s.

    I suspect Girardi will carry Cervelli on the roster because I don’t think he trusts Montero. I could see Montero catching occasionally and maybe Girardi substituting in Cervelli late in games (on Martin offdays).

    The other factor is for all the catcher ‘depth’ 2 of the catchers may not really be catchers (Montero and possibly Sanchez who is starting to develop a Montero Jr tag on defense). Murphy apparently has improved and while be may not be elite behind the plate, he looks as though he can stick.

    If Martin walked in FA you’d have Romine with maybe Murphy in the pipeline and question marks on whether

    • Tom

      …question marks on whether Murphy will need to be moved. (and Eomins is just a type)

      I think they hang on to Cervelii one more year and determine where to go based on what they do with Romine (does he get traded mid season or next offseason?) and Martin (if he leaves in FA does Romine become the primary option in 2013?).

      Plus I’m not sure Cervelli is worth anything unless he’s in a package as a third or fourth trade piece. The relief arms that he might get back in a straight up trade are not the type of arms the Yankees need… though I’m sure Girardi is still hunting for the useless 2nd LOOGY that he doesn’t need.

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