During lunchtime on Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Pirates announced that catcher Francisco Cervelli was signed to a 3 yr/$31M extension. This was a move that we both forecast and advocated. With this signing, the entire set of eight starting position players are now under team control for 2017. Here’s the prices for each of them:
- C Francisco Cervelli — $9M
- 1B John Jaso — $4M
- 2B Josh Harrison — $7.75M
- SS Jordy Mercer — $3.5M (arb. estimate)
- 3B Jung-ho Kang — $2.75M
- LF Starling Marte — $5.33M
- CF Andrew McCutchen — $14.2M
- RF Gregory Polanco — $1.6M
- TOTAL — $48.13M
Prior to this extension, I was under the impression that the Pirates current contention window was going to start to close after the 2017 season. After 2017, Francisco Liriano would be a free agent, Francisco Cervelli would have already been gone for a year, and the Pirates would be making the decision on whether or not to trade Andrew McCutchen prior to his final team option year of 2018.
One signing shouldn’t alter my thinking on things, but this signing is pointing me to two thoughts:
- The Pirates seem serious about fielding a strong contender in 2017
- The window may be pried open to 2018 while they retain McCutchen on his team option
With the imminent arrival of Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon this season, the 2017 rotation is shaping up to be both potentially potent and economical.
- Gerrit Cole — $6.25M (arb. estimate)
- Francisco Liriano — $13.67M
- Tyler Glasnow — $0.5M
- Jameson Taillon — $0.5M
- TOTAL — $20.92M
If you add up the starting eight plus the top four pitchers, as shown above, you get $69.05M. Assuming a $110M payroll, that leaves $41M of payroll flexibility to fill out the bench, bullpen, and fifth starter. And when you factor in that some of those 13 remaining spots could be filled by players on minimum salaries (Josh Bell, Alen Hanson) or small salaries like Chris Stewart’s $1.4M, that leaves even more money to invest on key areas. Some of the monies will potentially be allocated to arb-eligible players like Tony Watson, Juan Nicasio, and Jared Hughes, but there could still be a couple of mid-size splurges.
The free agent market this offseason is shaping up to be a desolate wasteland of available talent, but perhaps the Pirates may go the trade route with teams either looking to shed salaries or in the midst of rebuilding efforts.
With Cervelli’s signing in the books, the Pirates can now potentially control all the players shown above in 2018, with the exception of Francisco Liriano. I still don’t believe the Pirates will be able or willing to retain McCutchen whenever he reaches free agency after 2018, but this move at least plants the tiniest of seeds that it is possible. Very tiny. I’m still being realistic to the financial aspects of such a long-term move and still believe that the window can be extended even further if McCutchen is traded for the right mix of both short and long-term assets.
But now the Pirates have locked up a catcher at below-market rates that should at least retain league-average offense and plus defensive chops, especially in the all-important pitch framing category. Having a catcher that’s not a zero offensively at the plate is a huge bonus and helps lengthen the lineup, especially when that catcher can get on-base with the frequency that Cervelli possesses.
The Pirates only make a signing when it works for them in terms of years and cash outlay. The years are why players like Russell Martin and JA Happ are now plying their trades north of the border. Cervelli wanted to stay here and the Pirates agreed they wanted him here for the correct financial terms.
How the Pirates will build off of this move in the offseason, quite a ways from now of course, is what will reveal their belief in the team moving forward. This move is a good sign.