Astros ought to inquire about Pirates’ catcher Francisco Cervelli

codypoage
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 23: Francisco Cervelli #29 of the Pittsburgh Pirates looks on in the dugout during a post game ceremony following the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park on September 23, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 23: Francisco Cervelli #29 of the Pittsburgh Pirates looks on in the dugout during a post game ceremony following the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park on September 23, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /
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Although J.T. Realmuto is the grand prize on the catcher trade market, it may prove advantageous for the Astros if they inquire elsewhere.

We all know the Astros desire to add a starting-caliber catcher before the 2019 season. While Max Stassi did a fine job filling in during the second half, Houston’s catching corps were a hit-and-miss group. Martin Maldonado did provide key depth down the stretch while Brian McCann eventually returned from the DL. Unfortunately, the catcher position wasn’t exactly one of strength for the Astros throughout the postseason.

The most popular trade target for the Astros this offseason is Realmuto as the Marlins are willing to trade the All-Star catcher for the right price. As it stands now, Houston and Miami look interested in a potential player swap, but the two clubs don’t appear close to a deal. Based on my initial review, it appears Houston’s top pitching prospect, Forrest Whitley, is the sticking point of any trade discussions. As Chander Rome of the Houston Chronicle notes here, “Whitley remains untouchable” in the eyes of general manager Jeff Luhnow.

For the Astros, it makes sense to keep Whitley off-limits for a few reasons, especially if top position prospect Kyle Tucker is available. Although Realmuto is a quality catcher, Luhnow has to draw the line in the sand somewhere. That said, there are other quality catchers available this offseason as free agents, including Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos. Even the trade market has a couple of interesting options at catcher.

I’ve always enjoyed watching Russell Martin throughout his career, but the name that I find more intriguing is Francisco Cervelli. If the Pirates’ front office are truly sincere in their intention to trade the age-32 catcher, then Luhnow ought to contact his Pittsburgh counterpart. Friendly reminder: “Open to dealing” isn’t the same as actually pursuing trades.

The Astros, like multiple teams, have a need at catcher and could use Cervelli’s services. For one, Cervelli has a penchant for getting on-base as his .378 mark was the highest out of any full-time catcher last season. He also finished 2018 with a new career-high in home runs with 12 in addition to finishing 25% above league average in wRC+. While his advanced catching metrics aren’t exactly stellar, the Pirates’ catcher is held with high regard by his teammates. However, he did have a strong season throwing out potential base stealers with 23 compared to 11 in 2017.

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Cervelli, on paper, offers a clear upgrade for Houston’s catcher corps. But he is only under contract for one more season through 2019. Like Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, Cervelli would likely enter the open market as a free agent. There is a certain risk to acquiring another short-term option at catcher rather than dealing for the younger Realmuto. At the same time though, Realmuto is only under contract through the 2020 season. Either way, the Astros ought to kick the tires on the possibility, if anything else to establish leverage against the Marlins.

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