According to Chris Cotillo, Francisco Cervelli is drawing a lot of trade interest, with the White Sox being one noted team scouting the catcher. We’ve known for some time that the Yankees were willing to move some of their excess catching, namely Austin Romine or John Ryan Murphy, but Cervelli projected to be the backup catcher in 2014. Moving Cervelli over one of the younger players with more team control obviously makes sense, but the team has its needs, and trading Cervelli alone likely wouldn’t be enough to answer these problems. While it comes as a moderate surprise that he’s on the trade block, Cervelli’s trade value is a debatable topic.
The catcher has been valuable over his first few years, and in 623 plate appearances, the right-handed hitter has produced a 93 wRC+ and a .271/.343/.367 slash, which is solid for even a starting catcher. His biggest issue has been his ability to stay on the field, and it’s been fluke injuries that have mostly haunted him. Collisions at the plate have been the recurring cause for most of his fractures and concussions, which continued up until 2013 when he finally fractured his hand on a foul tip in April. With new collision rules set up to limit these types of injuries, Cervelli now has a better chance to stay healthy, which could be a reason why he’s drawing so much trade interest.
In limited time in 2013, Cervelli crushed the ball for a .269/.377/.500 slash in 61 plate appearances. It was later revealed that he was involved with the Biogenesis scandal, which again limited his playing time and shined some doubt on his early breakout performance last season. But offense wasn’t his only strong suit, and he again showed strong pitching framing ability last year. In fact, over his entire major league career, Cervelli is averaging 12.3 runs saved per 7,000 pitches according to Baseball Prospectus. In 2013, he averaged 28.4 runs before suffering his wrist injury. Cervelli’s other defensive contributions consist of an average arm and good plate blocking skills.
The Yankees have continued to show off Cervelli this spring, and he’s delivered by batting .429/.500/.714 with 1 home run in 16 plate appearances. While this early production from the catcher is hard to interpret, teams may at least feel more confident about his recent positive offensive trends despite the PED usage, as he’s continued to show hard contact and power even after his suspension. This spring, Cervelli has spoken quite a bit about wanting to win the backup job, but also that he is disappointed that he won’t win the starting job. The Yankees may give him an opportunity to win a starting job with another team, but would it be worth it for the organization?
Earlier this offseason, the Yankees traded Chris Stewart to the Pirates for minor league pitcher Kyle Haynes. It was a solid return for a backup player in Stewart, and we can make some comparisons from Stewart’s known trade value. While Ceverlli is undoubtedly a better hitter, both carried the same team control, and Stewart actually has more value as a defensive and pitching framing catcher. There’s likely less trade value built on such pitching framing statistics, but what we learned from that trade is that Cervelli could probably net the team someone better than a decent player to be named later. Teams that saw his 2013 breakout and believe that he can stay healthy with the new collision rules may be willing to part with a real prospect or even a starting player via a salary dump.
Despite the 63-99 record in 2013, I assume that the White Sox are still trying to win in 2014. They’ve made a number of very promising moves this winter by adding Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, and Matt Davidson. Their projected starting catcher is Josh Phegley, who hit just .206/.223/.299 in his rookie season, and is currently having a disappointing spring. Tyler Flowers could also be in the mix for the position, but the White Sox have been equally disappointed in his 2013 performance. Francisco Cervelli would likely compete with these two catchers, but he’s also much needed depth in an organization that lacks catching. Cervelli’s power is also promising in US Cellular Field, which is extremely right-handed friendly. The catching market is so weak that the White Sox could very well be trading for a starter in Cervelli.
Though the Steinbrenners have publicly stated that they’re done spending, taking on a salary dump is never entirely out of the question for a team like the Yankees. The White Sox’ biggest salaries are John Danks, Adam Dunn, and Alexei Ramirez. The Yankees have no need for Danks, and it’s very unlikely that they’d trade for Dunn unless Mark Teixeira re-injured his wrist. Ramirez’ $9.5 million salary in 2014 jumps to $10 million in 2015, and while it’s not a ton for a team like the Yankees, it’s the third highest salary for Chicago. A few years ago, an Alexei Ramirez trade might have made sense for this team’s roster, but Ramirez’ power has been replaced by his speed. The 32 year old middle infielder has seen his home run totals drop from 21 in 2008 to just 6 in 2013, while his stolen bases have jumped from 13 to 30. Ramirez is a pure contact hitter today, and rarely walks or strikes out. In 2013 he hit .284/.313/.380, which was good for an 86 wRC+. I’m not so sure that he’d be an upgrade over Brian Roberts offensively, but his defense at shortstop could be a major upgrade over Derek Jeter. The Yankees already have Brendan Ryan though, for much cheaper, so Ramirez doesn’t make a ton of sense.
One player that does make some sense is Conor Gillaspie, who is now expendable with Matt Davidson heading over from the Diamondbacks. The former Giants first-round pick hit .245/.305/.390 in his age 25 season with Chicago, including 13 home runs. Gillaspie has the ability to play both third base and first base, with power from the left side of the plate, and has shown a strong eye and limited strikeouts. His 2013 batting average looks a little unlucky after hitting just .618 on line drives, and while he may earn more hits from liners, he would also show a better fly ball average if he were moved to Yankee Stadium. Over his minor league career, Gillaspie has been a much better hitter versus right-handed pitcher than left-handed, but in his 74 major league plate appearances against southpaws, the third baseman looked absolutely lost with just a .155/.189/.239 slash. A Gillaspie for Cervelli swap makes sense for both teams, although the Yankees would have to be confident that Gillaspie’s dramatic struggles can be fixed or are a product of small sample size. Against right-handed pitching, he could have very strong power potential, especially in Yankee Stadium.
With Marcus Semien also approaching the major leagues, Gordon Beckham‘s time in Chicago may also be coming to an end. The former 8th overall pick in the 2008 draft has struggled ever since his rookie season in 2009. In 2013, Beckham hit just .267/.322/.372 for the White Sox, and his career numbers indicate that despite his poor offensive numbers, he’s taken advantage of US Cellular Field. Beckham could produce even worse with the Yankees, though his glove fits the team’s needs.
Gillaspie probably remains the most intriguing player, but acquiring him would still require scouts to see something that could fix his swing against same-side pitchers. The matchup with the White Sox doesn’t seem to carry any perfect returns for the Yankees. In fact, the team may be better off keeping Cervelli or packaging him with another expendable player like Ichiro Suzuki or David Phelps to another team.