Age: March 6, 1986 (32)
Stats: .259/.378/.431, 15 2B, 3 3B, 12 HR, 57 RBI, 2 SB, 3 CS
Advanced Stats: 2.6 bWAR, 3.3 fWAR, 123 OPS+, 125 wRC+
Defensive Stats: -6 DRS, -4.0 FRAA, -13.4 RAA
Remaining Contract: One year, $11.5 million
Somehow Cervelli has emerged as one of the best offensive catchers in baseball. His 125 wRC+ last year was the fourth best among catchers with at least 400 plate appearances. His 112 wRC+ over the past two seasons is sixth best among those who had 700 plate appearances. The reason why Cervelli ranks this high is his ability to get on base.
Cervelli has a career .362 OBP, and he has been slightly better than that with a .368 OBP since becoming a starting catcher with the Pirates. This has been fueled by a 12.6 percent walk rate over the past three years. Another interesting part of his high OBP is his career .331 BABIP. You don’t normally expect this from catchers, but this could very well be a function of Cervelli using the full field and not having much weak contact.
While Cervelli has been a top offensive catcher, he has not quite been a top level catcher. Looking across the board, there is not much Cervelli does very well behind the plate.
For example, his pitch framing numbers are among the worst in baseball. What is interesting about that is he was one of the best in baseball back in 2015. That was his first full season as a starting catcher, and it was his best year as a professional. Since that time, he has declined as a pitch framer and generally as a defender. However, that doesn’t mean he is no longer an effective player.
There are things Cervelli does very well. As noted, he gets on base. Also, for the first time in his career, he threw out more base stealers than league average. Overall, deep down, Cervelli is a catcher capable of doing everything well. With him entering a contract walk year, maybe this could be the year he puts it all together.
The caveat to everything is Cervelli had dealt with concussion problems. Concussions forced Cervelli to make two different stints on the disabled list last year. Overall, Cervelli has had four concussions since 2011. Due to these issues, it is not too surprising the Pirates are putting him on the trade block.
Why the Mets Should Obtain Him
In 2018, Cervelli had a 2.6 WAR. That is just 0.2 behind Kevin Plawecki‘s career mark, and it is 0.5 higher than Travis d’Arnaud‘s career mark. To that end, you could certainly argue he is better than the Mets internal catching options. With the Mets already going all-in to obtain Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, the Mets cannot stop short now and refuse to go all out to improve the catching situation.
If you are going to do that, Cervelli would be in the mix with players like Wilson Ramos and Yasmani Grandal. Cervelli will be cheaper than any of them, and while he has issues like Ramos and Grandal, you insulate yourself more from a risk perspective by sticking with the shorter term option.
Why the Mets Should Not Obtain Him
If you look at it, Cervelli is really not any different than what the Mets already have in Plawecki or d’Arnaud. Notably, Cervelli’s career took off in 2015 when he was 29 years old. It just so happens Plawecki will be 29 next year. Given how Plawecki has a similar skill set to Cervelli, at least offensively, it would probably behoove the Mets to keep the younger and cheaper option.
The money is the other issue. While Cervelli would likely be an improvement, he would be one at $11.5 million, which is a steep price for a poor pitch framer who hits for little to no power.
After the blockbuster trade with the Mariners, the Mets are all-in right now. You cannot follow that trade by standing pat at catcher. The two decisions don’t jive with one another. If that is the case, the Mets have to upgrade at catcher and other positions. If Cervelli is the best chance you get to upgrade, you have to do it even if you have to once again overpay in terms of prospects.
Hopefully, the Mets only go down this path after being outbid for Grandal or Ramos.