By Matt Mirro, American League Writer
Over the offseason the Pittsburgh Pirates truly hoped to hold on to star catcher Russell Martin. Coming off a career year, Martin was viewed as one of the best free agents available with everyone from the Chicago Cubs to the Texas Rangers being seen as possible suitors. It was obvious that a possible departure of the Canadian born backstop would be a calamity for the new perennial National League Pennant contenders. So the team needed to find a backup plan. They couldn’t go into the season with Chris Stewart as their starting catcher after all.
Over in New York, the Yankees were in desperate need of a young, controllable left-handed reliever. After Boone Logan left for the thin Colorado air prior to the 2014 season the Yankees were forced to shuffle through a deck of left-handed discards. Matt Thornton, David Huff, Jeff Francis, Josh Outman, Rich Hill, Cesar Cabral and even the likes of Wade LeBlanc and Chaz Roe all suited up in pinstripes to try to patch up the glaring whole out of the bullpen. It was not a good situation at all. Going into the offseason grabbing a reliable left hander became an absolute must.
The Yankees had a surplus of catching talent throughout the organization, all who would serve as backups with star Brian McCann entering his second year as a Yankee. Naturally, the two teams matched up and struck a deal. The Yankees sent longtime backup catcher Francisco Cervelli to the Pirates in exchange for the 27-year old lefty fireman Justin Wilson. While none were sure who exactly got the better end of the deal now that we’ve entered the second half of the season it seems that both sides have benefited from the move.
Before too long Russell Martin did indeed leave the Pirates, signing a huge deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. That left Cervelli to serve as the team’s starting catcher, something he rarely got the opportunity to do in the Bronx. All of baseball knew the 29-year old Venezuelan native was a high energy, exuberant personality but no one knew if he could remain healthy to play a full season. While he’s always been regarded as a solid game caller there were questions about whether his bat could be productive enough to make the blow of Martin’s loss less crippling.
So far, Cervelli has proved he could be a productive starting backstop. Through 72 games (His career high for a single season is 93) he’s batted .285 with four home runs and 30 RBI. He’s reached base at a very solid .357 on base percentage. He’s brought even more energy to a young and exciting team that once again finds itself in the midst of a playoff race. He’s also lead his pitching staff to a 2.96 ERA, good for second in all of Major League Baseball. It looks like the former Bomber has fit in well with the Bucs, helping to put Russell Martin firmly in Pittsburgh’s rear view mirror.
The acquisition of Wilson was the Yankees first move of the offseason. Of course, they later acquired left-handed relievers like the emerging Chasen Shreve and lock down closer Andrew Miller. But getting someone like Wilson was an absolute must. After a whole season of shuffling through the clearance rack for left-handed options they netted the young Wilson who had pitched very well through two full seasons with the Pirates. Under contract through the 2018 season Wilson was viewed as someone who could be a mainstay in the Yankees bullpen going forward. After a down 2014 campaign some thought there was a chance the Yankees had run away with a steal, especially because one could consider Cervelli a spare part in his final season as a Yankee.
Wilson is currently putting up a career year with the Yankees. He’s taken over as the Bombers’ seventh inning man, going 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 44 games (35.0 innings). While he did own a better ERA back in 2013 (2.08) he has put up a better WHIP (1.057 compared to 1.059 in 2013) as well as a career best hits per nine innings ratio at 5.9. Wilson also owns a career best 2.92 FIP here in 2015. After struggling early in the season he’s brought stability to a once turbulent Yankee seventh, bridging the gap between the starting pitcher and the duo of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller.
It’s not often a trade works out this well for both sides but going into the second half of the season I bet both the Yankees and the Pirates would do the deal all over again. Of course there is a chance that one player really asserts himself as being the more valuable of the two. Until then there is no clear winner. The good news is that there’s also no loser. Both squads got exactly what they needed by trading from a surplus. Nothing better than an all around productive transaction.