According to multiple sources, the Pittsburgh Pirates are open to trading 33 year old catcher/first baseman Francisco Cervelli. The Angels desperately need an offensive upgrade at both of those positions and Cervelli would be a good fit.
In the final year of his contract, Cervelli will make $11.25 million, which is pretty rich for a small market team with a very good, cost controlled catcher already on the roster. That $11.25 million is not a small number, but it is for one year and likely to be substantially less than the annual salaries of the premier catchers on the free agent market, Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos. His offensive prowess dwarfs the second tier of available catchers such as Martin Maldonado.
In 2018, Cervelli slashed a very solid .259/.375/.431. That was his best year in some time and he is 33, so it wouldn’t be wise to count on that repeating. Looking at a 3 year sample, he comes in at .258/.368/.375 which would have been the second highest OBP on last year’s Angels squad.
For his career, Cervelli has pretty much crushed left handed pitching to the tune of a .293/.390/.408 slash line. Here’s where his value could truly lie.
Last year he also saw a little action at first base. There’s not enough data to make a conclusion on his fielding abilities, but several catchers have made that transition smoothly. Assuming he can handle first a couple of days per week, his lefty smashing would replace Albert Pujols’ .200/.274/.400 line against lefties last year.
Pujols would not only get a couple of days a week off his feet, he would be left to face righties, who he hit quite a bit better. Cervelli would get some time away from the dish. The hope is that both men benefit from the rest and are better for it.
Jose Briceno would be the time share partner behind the plate. At 25 years old he is in his prime and put up very catcher like .239/.299/.385 line in his first MLB action last year. That is actually better production than many teams starting catchers. If he matures into a starting caliber catcher, Cervelli is out of the way next year.
The only drawback with Cervelli comes on the defensive end. He’s graded a little below average behind the dish in recent years and his first forays at first base did not go well. He’s not a complete package, but if he was he wouldn’t be available.
The acquisition cost is always the key in these type of transactions. Per the report from Bucs Dugout linked above, the Red Sox and Pirates were deep in discussions at the trade deadline last year with a 50 grade pitching prospect said to be the Pirates target. That was in the thick of a World Series push and while Cervelli had a year and a half of control, not just one. The price has likely dropped a bit.
Most likely the Pirates are looking to shed some payroll so they can reallocate it to other areas. They traded for Chris Archer last summer, so it doesn’t appear they are rebuilding. Chase Kimura brought up a good name to go back to them: Blake Parker. His projected salary for the year is $3.1 million and he has another year of control remaining. That would save the Pirates $8 million and fortify the back end of their bullpen. I think it would take another mid level prospect to seal the deal, but nobody that would hurt too bad.
This would be a one year stop gap, but adding a solid bat while only taking on $8 million in additional salary should leave Eppler plenty of room to add some pitching.