Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli and Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin are both generating some degree of interest on the trade market, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (all Twitter links). The Jays are willing to pay a “significant” portion of the final $20MM on Martin’s contract, per Passan, and have already discussed him with other clubs. Cervelli’s on-base skills are also appealing to catcher-needy teams, Passan notes, and the Pirates are willing to listen to offers for the veteran backstop. Both players are entering the final season of multi-year contracts.
Cervelli, 33 in March, just wrapped up a vastly superior offensive season to Martin and is owed a more palatable $11.5MM in 2019 before reaching free agency next winter. That price point is obviously steep for the typically low-budget Pirates, but other clubs around the league may not consider it excessive for a player who hit .259/.378/.431 with a career-high 12 home runs in 404 plate appearances last season. That OBP is hardly anything new for Cervelli, who has reached at a .370 clip or better in five of the past six seasons, with a .342 mark in 2017 serving as the lone exception.
Cervelli also halted an outstanding 39 percent of stolen-base attempts against him, though his once-superlative framing skills have checked in below the league average in each of the past two seasons, per Baseball Prospectus. He also rated below average in terms of pitch blocking in 2018.
The 35-year-old Martin is in a much different spot. He’ll make $20MM in the final season of a backloaded five-year, $82MM contract next season, and while his 15.9 percent walk rate was sensational, his overall .194/.338/.325 batting line leaves plenty to be desired. Martin was undoubtedly harmed by a .234 average on balls in play, but that’s perhaps not as unlucky as some might think at first glance.
While that .234 mark is well south of his career .283 BABIP, Martin saw his line-drive rate drop by nearly 10 percent this past season — from 23.7 percent in 2017 to 14 percent in 2018. He also posted a career-worst 19.4 percent infield-fly rate and hit the ball on the ground at a career-high 51.2 percent clip. For a 35-year-old catcher whose once-surprising speed has largely evaporated, that’s not a great trend.
Defensively, Martin’s once-excellent caught-stealing rate has waned over the past three seasons (22 percent in 2018 — six percent below the league average), but Baseball Prospectus still grades him as a premium framer and blocker.
The availability of both Cervelli and Martin only further adds to a market that has a vast supply of options but also a rather substantial amount of demand. Marlins star J.T. Realmuto is obviously the prize of the catching class but also surely comes with a substantially greater cost of acquisition than either Cervelli or Martin. Cleveland’s Yan Gomes, too, is said to be available. Free agency, meanwhile, offers the likes of Yasmani Grandal, Wilson Ramos, Martin Maldonado and Robinson Chirinos, among others.
As for demand, there’s no shortage of contenders or hopeful contenders who could use upgrades. The Dodgers, Astros, Rockies, Angels, Twins, Red Sox, Mets, Brewers and Phillies could all conceivably explore the market, as could a number of teams that are either in the midst of a rebuild or retooling process (e.g. Mariners, Tigers). And, of course, if any of Cervelli, Martin or Realmuto is moved, those catchers’ former clubs could look to the market to add a replacement option at a lower price.