Could Francisco Cervelli be an option for Cubs?

by - Columnist -
Jim Young - USA Today Sports
Jim Young - USA Today Sports

Jed Hoyer said it: The Cubs were more likely to trade than buy free-agents this off-season. Time to get busy.

While the argument continues to be made that the Cubs need a veteran catcher to back up and mentor Willson Contreras, the Cubs have let options slip by as Kurt Suzuki and Jeff Mathis signed with other clubs by way of free agency. There are different quality free-agent backstops out there, but guys like Yasmani Grandal aren’t ready for a part-time role yet.

Two more options appear to have entered the trade market, though, as the Pirates are now shopping Francisco Cervelli and the Blue Jays are listening to offers for Russell Martin.

Of the two, 33-year-old Cervelli looks more affordable, with $11.5M left on his contract for 2019, while Martin is owed a lofty $20M on his, although Toronto is willing to eat a “significant” portion of Martin’s contract. Both players are in the final year of long-term deals.

While Cervelli has battled multiple concussions and other injuries over his career, his numbers were good in 2018. In 404 plate appearances, he slashed .259/.378/.431 with 12 home runs and 57 RBI. Defensively, Cervelli gunned down an impressive 39% of would-be base stealers last season. Cervelli also plays a decent game at first base, making him an adequate replacement for Rizzo on off-days.

There’s no way the Cubs would pay $11.5M for a backup-backstop for a year, but there may be another way.

The Cubs are heavy in the young-catcher department with Willson Contreras, Taylor Davis, and Victor Caratini, and if the Bucs trade Cervelli, they’ll be short a backup catcher. Furthermore, with Jordy Mercer entering free-agency this off-season, the Pirates now also find themselves short a shortstop. (Hang in there, the hamster in my head is turning his wheel)

I’m no expert at building trades, but I think this one (or maybe some revised and tweaked version) makes complete sense.

The Cubs are likely to part ways with Addison Russell but off-loading him while suspended could be tricky. I’ve seen arguments that a team cannot trade a restricted player, but that isn’t so. Per the rules, a restricted player can be dealt, but he must be added to the new team’s 40-man roster as soon as he is reinstated- which probably wouldn’t be an issue for any team with an interest or need for Russell.

The Pirates have a little depth at shortstop already, but with Mercer leaving the squad, they have nothing in the way of experienced players. Kevin Newman played in only 24 games last season, and neither Pablo Reyes nor Erik Gonzalez, both listed as shortstops, ever played so much as an inning there.

With Russell expected to earn $4.3M in arbitration this year, trading him to Pittsburgh would offset almost half of Cervelli’s remaining salary from the get-go, then factor in either Victor Caratini or Taylor Davis, and you may be onto something. Still, I think the Cubs would have to add a little cash, perhaps $3-4M, with the Pirates being forced to eat the remaining balance.

While I would think the Cubs would rather part with Davis rather than Caratini, Victor’s ability to play first, third and switch-hit make him a little more prized.

Would the Pirates be interested in Russell, though, with allegations of spousal abuse lingering overhead? My guess is a middle of the road, maybe. The Bucs are no strangers to controversial players, with Both Starling Marte and Nik Turley being suspended 80 games each for PED violations (Marte in 2017, Turley in 2018). Domestic violence may be a different animal in the eyes of ownership though, as earlier in 2018, Pirates prospect Ji-hwan Bae faced accusations similar to Russell’s. With the team’s permission and at the request of investigators, Bae departed the organization.

Whether Russell goes for Cervelli, or whether he goes for pitching help, somewhere out there, a trade might be waiting; Theo just needs to put the pieces together. With the cubs gaining more and more depth at shortstop (Baez, Bote, and now Torreyes) I think the time has come to pass on a future with Addison Russell.

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