Wilson-Cervelli: Quick Takes + a Worry about Lost Depth

Wow, is my timing awesome: on Tuesday, I write a hosanna to Francisco Cervelli's bright 2015 future of increased Yankee playing time, but apparently Brian Cashman disagrees or (gasp) doesn't read me, because he traded Cervelli the next day for LHP Justin Wilson. I feel like Karl Rove on election night 2012 screaming about how Romney is still winning right as his fellow Fox Newsers gave up the ghost. So, a few quick takes on the trade: (1) Don't Cry for Me, Venezuela. I praised Cervelli as an above-par catcher who could free up Brian McCann both to rest and to spell Teixeria -- but I can't fault Cashman for trading him. In retrospect, I may have lowballed Cervelli's injury history, especially his 2014 migraines, which don't seem major, except that migraines are a known problem for folks who have had concussions. I still think the Yankees were a better team with than without him, but he's not exactly indispensable or reliable.

(2) Pleased to Meet You, Lefty. Justin Wilson is an interesting get. He's a lefty, which adds some value because the Yankee pen is righty-heavy, but he's not a LOOGY (Lefty One-Out Guy); he has basically no lefty-righty split. I like lefties with little split: he's a better bet to face lefties than a non-elite RHP like Warren, Kelley, or a RH starter; but he's not a LOOGY you can't leave in the full inning for fear the righties will mash him. But is he good enough? His 138.1 IP is just enough data to believe his 2.99 ERA / 3.45 FIP, and he should adjust to Yankee Stadium fine because he has no real home-road split and isn't prone to the homers (just 0.5 HR/9) that are the bane of pitchers in the Bronx. A mid-3s ERA would arguably tie him with Adam Warren as the second-best or third-best reliever, depending on whether they lose D-Rob. Flip the handedness and Warren is actually a pretty good comp: both were mediocre minor-league starters whose move to the bullpen made them high-K relievers who reach the mid-high 90s. As relievers, their HR/9, BB/9, and K/9 are pretty similar -- 0.9/3.2/8.0 for Warren, 0.5/4.0/8.3 for Wilson. Wilson is somewhat wilder, but -- key for a hitter's park -- is noticeably less homer-prone and K's a tad more.. If you think of the trade yield as "Adam Warren, but with added lefty value," it doesn't sound bad.

(3) But Trading from Overrated Caching Depth? I'm not sold on the remaining backup catchers. Stick a fork in Austin Romine, he's done: turning 26 this month, and all he has to show for it are lines of .243/.303/.365 in AAA (445 PA spanning 3 years) and .204/.247/.281 in MLB (181 PA). I get how J.R. Murphy jumped him in line, but that says more about Romine's decay than about Murphy's performance, which is unimpressive: .259/.321/.416 in two half-seasons at AAA. Before you get excited about his 81 good major-league AB in 2014, remember that his minor-league line was better in 2013 (a solid but not overwhelming .270/.342/.430 an AAA) than in his poor 2014 (a lower-power, lower-contact, lower-walk .246/.292/.397 at AAA) -- so there isn't really evidence he's outgrowing his performance as a mediocre AAA hitter.

(4) But J.R. is Good Enough for Backing Up. While I'm no Murphy booster, he's probably fine as a backup -- and Wilson is worth more than the Cervelli-Murphy dropoff from league-average hitting (about 2 WAR/season) to replacement-level or slightly better hitting (0-1 WAR/season). Pro-rate that to playing only a third of a season, and the falloff is about 0.5 WAR. A solid reliever like Wilson replacing whoever the last bullpen guy would've been (Huff?) easily could exceed half a win.

(5) But Watch Out for the Depth Loss. The main implication of losing Cervelli may be that you can't, as I suggested Tuesday, give him 80-100 games to free up Brian McCann both to rest more, to DH some, and to spell Teixeria at 1B. Murphy is fine to catch a quarter-season as a bankup, but not fine to catch a half-season to let McCann DH/1B, because then you're basically leaving your catcher (McCann) in the lineup and adding a weak hitter (Murphy) with the DH/1B spot. It's like when Brendan Ryan or Kelly Johnson played 1B. In short, unlike Cervelli, Murphy probably isn't good enough to justify more time and let your catcher surplus help you rotate enough offense through 1B/DH.

(6) But Cashman Can Find 1B/DH Depth, But He Didn't in 2013-14. As you can tell from how I just admitted I have five buts, I have mixed emotions here. My last point is that one subtle but real negative of the Cervelli trade is that the team just lost useful 1B/DH depth. You'd think that's an easy hole to fill, but it wasn't in 2013 (Lyle Overbay) or 2014 (Ryan/Johnson). Hopefully Cashman conjures up a better 2015 contingency plan than his failed 2013-14 contingency plans of hoping Teixeira gets into the best shape of his life.