JULY 12: Cervelli now says that he does hope to return to working behind the plate. (Post via Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on Twitter.)
“Saying that I quit from my catcher responsibilities is inaccurate,” he writes. “My hope is to catch again.”
Cervelli goes on to explain that he is merely staying out from behind the dish for the present as “part of the process of recovery from several concussions that have forced me to stop and think about my health beyond my baseball years.” The long-time receiver says he loves the game too much not to try to “reinvent” himself and keep plugging.
There’s certainly some ambiguity here. Whether he was prompted to clarify his stance based upon contractual concerns or a genuine desire to get back behind the plate, there’s no doubting Cervelli’s heart. At this point, though, it seems uncertain at best whether he will again don the mask in the majors.
JULY 7: Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli is giving up his career-long position because of chronic concussion issues. The 33-year-old told Dejan Kovacevic of DKPittsburghSports.com that he will no longer catch.
“That’s enough,” Cervelli stunningly revealed to Kovacevic. “This time is different. I can’t live like this.”
Cervelli has been on the injured list since suffering a concussion May 25. It’s at least the sixth he has incurred since his major league career began with the Yankees in 2008, Kovacevic notes. It’s unclear which position Cervelli will take next, though he emphasized to Kovacevic it was his decision – not the Pirates’ – to leave behind catching. Cervelli added he hopes to begin a rehab assignment at the Triple-A level in the coming weeks.
Cervelli, a Pirate since 2015, had been a respectable starting catcher for the club when he was healthy enough to man the position. He was at his best in 2015, a season in which he logged a tremendous 5.9 fWAR in 130 games. That compelled Pittsburgh to extend Cervelli in May 2016, when it awarded him a three-year, $33MM guarantee. Cervelli lived up to that pact as recently as last year, hitting .259/.378/.431 (125 wRC+) with 2.6 fWAR in 404 plate appearances and 104 games. Thanks in part to injuries, though, he got off to a slow start this season. As of now, he owns a .193/.247/.248 line (47 wRC+) across 123 PA.
With no obvious position anymore and Cervelli’s contract set to expire at season’s end, it seems likely this will be his final year with the Pirates. Speculatively, if he does return in 2019, he could try his hand as a reserve corner infielder. The Pirates have one of the majors’ premier first basemen, Josh Bell, and a capable starter at third in Colin Moran. Regardless of whether Cervelli shifts to either of those spots, it doesn’t seem he’ll garner much more playing time this year, and will now cede his customary position to Elias Diaz and Jacob Stallings.