Thursday, November 13, 2014

Yankees: Cervelli trade was a necessity

The New York Yankees traded backup catcher Francisco Cervelli to the Pittsburgh Pirates for lefty reliever Justin Wilson Wednesday night. The trade was an absolute necessity from the standpoint of the Yankees' catcher glut and fills a slot the Yankees needed for 2015.

Before the trade the Yankees were carrying five catchers on the 40-man roster; Brian McCann, Cervelli, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez. It was obvious that the Yankees would need to use some of that depth to build in another area of need, and Cervelli was the clear candidate in my view. The Yankees needed a lefty reliever and with Wilson they obtain one who has seen flashes of success in three major league seasons.

The move allows Murphy and Romine to fight it out in spring training for the backup role behind McCann, though it seems apparent that the Yankees would love Murphy to take the spot. Sanchez will likely split time with Romine at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, or spend more time at Double-A Trenton.

Cervelli was a serviceable backup when he was on the field and a fan favorite because of his fiery persona. In his Yankee career Cervelli put up a .278/.348/.381 slash and a 101 wRC+ across 785 plate appearances while displaying better than average defensive skills and framing. The Pirates, unsure of the Russell Martin sweepstakes, have Cervelli and another former Yankees backstop, Chris Stewart under contract if they fail to secure Martin who is reportedly seeking a five-year, $75/80 million deal.

Wilson, 27, was spectacular in 2013 with the Bucs, posting a 2.08 ERA, 1.06 WHIP while striking out 59 batters in 73.2 innings. Unfortunately, Wilson has some control issues as he also walked 3.42 batters per nine innings that season.

In 2014, he took a step back when judging ERA (4.20), but a deeper look at FIP (3.41 in 2013 versus 3.62 in 2014) shows Wilson did not fall back all that dramatically. Wilson's walk rate continued to be an issue (4.50/9), but he still struck out just over one batter per inning pitched.

Wilson, a fifth round selection in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, mainly throws a mid 90’s four-seam fastball, then a two-seam fastball and a cutter that averages close to 90 mph according to PITCHf/x data. Each pitch has plus value and Wilson has induced groundballs at a 50.9 percent clip for his career. He generally keeps the ball in the park posting a .52/9 home run rate. Wilson should not be considered a LOOGY, as he’s actually generated slightly better OPS results against right-handed hitters than left-handed batters (.609 versus .617).

I’ve never been all that enamored with Cervelli. Yes, he was successful, but I by no means looked at him as a starter and with Murphy and Sanchez on the rise, there was little point in keeping an arbitration eligible player on the roster when he could garner a legitimate lefty for the bullpen. A fine move by Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Photo courtesy of Almonroth via Wikimedia Commons.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.