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What Does the Francisco Cervelli Trade Mean for the Rest of the Pirates Offseason?
A catcher who could step into the starting role
The acquisition of Francisco Cervelli is an interesting move by the Pirates early in the 2014 offseason, but it does not necessarily prevent them from making a bigger acquisition. The acquisition of Cervelli on the surface seems to take the Pirates out of the running for retaining the services of free agent catcher Russell Martin, but Jon Heyman of CBS says this is not the case. While the contract demands from Russell Martin's agent are high, the Pirates now have some leverage with the qualifying offer in place as well as a quality insurance plan for Russell Martin potentially signing with another team. With a backup plan in place, the Pirates are now free to address more pressing issues concerning their 2015 roster, such as the pitching staff. Without Martin taking a significant chunk of the Pirates payroll, they have plenty of money to spend on free agent starting pitchers, or pitchers acquired via trade. While Martin was an extremely valuable piece to the Pirates success the last two seasons, he is replaceable if the Pirates focus their spending on multiple areas of the team that Russell Martin helped to elevate to a higher level the past two seasons. By acquiring catcher Francisco Cervelli at a minimal cost, the Pirates now have the opportunity to put the finishing touches on a winning roster that could have even more playoff success than the three wins in seven playoff games the past two seasons.
Is the door closed on the Pirates negotiations with Russell Martin?
As Jon Heyman stated in his tweet following the Francisco Cervelli trade, the Pirates remain among the teams in the mix to sign Russell Martin this offseason. Tim Williams of Piratesprospects also mentioned something interesting when he gave an estimated arbitration figure of 1.1 million for Francisco Cervelli as his 2015 salary. While this is just an estimation, it has to be close enough to the figure that the team and Cervelli will eventually agree on that size of Cervelli's 2015 contract would match that of a typical bench player. With reserve catcher Chris Stewart also eligible for arbitration, the Pirates could opt not to tender Stewart a contract for 2015 if they were to end up bringing back Russell Martin. What all of this means, is that the door to negotiations between the Pirates and Russell Martin's agent has not been closed, but simply the Pirates have decided to be proactive with their preparation for next season. The Pirates now hold more leverage in contract negotiations with Russell Martin, if the other teams pursuing his services are not willing to match his demands because of the draft compensation attached to signing him. The best case scenario for the Pirates now would be for teams to shy away from negotiating with Martin because of the demands along with the draft compensation, forcing Martin's agent to settle for the best remaining offer from Pittsburgh. While this is not guaranteed to happen, a situation like this did play out with both Kendrys Morales and Nelson Cruz after they received qualifying offers last offseason.
Without Martin, where should funds go?
The past two seasons with Russell Martin guiding the pitching staff, and Ray Searage working with the Pirates pitching talent, the Pirates have been able to get quality production from many reclamation projects. Without Russell Martin guiding the pitching staff, the Pirates will need to turn to a higher tier of pitching talent in order to find a sustainable source for replicating the quality innings they have gotten from their pitching staff the past two seasons. The Pirates already brought in veteran starting pitcher AJ Burnett on a one year contract, but they will likely need to add one more starting pitcher if they are going to put the best pitching staff on the field without Russell Martin at catcher. The Pirates have a draft pick that is later in the first round for the second consecutive season, and they will get two compensation picks if their two free agents who were qualified, sign elsewhere. This means that they are in great position to pursue a free agent starter that received a qualifying offer this offseason. With the ace of their staff already in place with Gerrit Cole, a free agent starter like Ervin Santana would slot in nice as the Pirates second starter in the rotation. Another starter who would fit nicely on the Pirates staff, is veteran Brandon McCarthy who was not eligible to receive a qualifying offer after being traded to the Yankees before the 2014 trade deadline. With both of these pitchers likely to demand multi-year deals worth between 12 and 15 million per season, one of them would fit into the Pirates budget for 2015.
What is on the trade market for the Pirates?
The biggest name that has been floated out there in trade rumors this offseason, is Jeff Samardzija of the Oakland Athletics. The Athletics gave up their top prospect to get him before the 2014 trade deadline, and while they made a playoff appearance, Samardzija's presence on the roster was unable to fuel a deep playoff run. With Samardzija under contract with the Athletics for 2015, they do not have to trade him as they could opt to keep him and give him a qualifying offer next offseason. The reason for his name being in trade rumors though, is that the Athletics are in need of assets more valuable than just a compensation pick they would receive for him signing with another club. With the current state of the Pirates rotation, a top of the rotation starter like Jeff Samardzija would be a good fit to slot behind Gerrit Cole in 2015. The Pirates also have the farm system assets and depth to make a deal like this without losing a piece of their future that might put them in an uncomfortable situation. With Jeff Samardzija having an estimated arbitration figure of about 10 million for the 2015 season, the Pirates could definitely fit his contract in their budget if they were to make an offseason trade for him. While the Athletics might be hesitant to part with Samardzija for anything but what they consider the right price, there is speculation that he will eventually be moved for a young pre-arbitration eligible starting pitcher, along with a B level prospect.
The Francisco Cervelli trade gives the Pirates the upper hand with their decision making the rest of the offseason, as they will not have to give in to the demands of Russell Martin's agent. With the Pirates returning a group of position players next season, that were among the top offensive units in the National League, they do not have many offseason needs. By bringing in AJ Burnett, they helped to address the need for veteran leadership on the pitching staff as they prepare for the potential departure of Russell Martin. With the Pirates having plenty of payroll flexibility, they are now faced with a choice between bringing back Russell Martin or further upgrading the pitching staff by use of either the free agent market or trade market. With all of these factors considered, the Pirates are favorites to once again return to the postseason with the upside of being a World Series contender in 2015.