Francisco Cervelli did not respond well to being demoted. He was not shy about being confused and distraught over the whole debacle. His numbers in the early going embodied a player who was lacking confidence. A few weeks later, his family came for a visit, raised his spirits, and he’s been hitting over .300 ever since.
He’s raised his batting average from a nadir of under the mendoza line to .257, and his OBP stands at .330. Minor league statistics aside, we’re talking about a major league career .272/.338 hitter. He’s only had five career homeruns, but four came in 2011 in just 43 games. Project that over a full season and he could feasibly hit 10. He’s just 26, and thus has not even hit his prime yet, which usually comes at about 27.
All of this ignores the most impressive aspect of his game, defense. He plays with fire, takes great pride in defense, and has impressed everyone with his ability to handle pitchers. He throws out runners at a solid clip, and he’s good at just about everything a catcher is supposed to do, including hitting.
Now compare this to our current back up catcher, Chris Stewart. By all accounts Stewart is a great guy and I was impressed with his ability to answer questions honestly and sincerely when he came to New York. That said, the guy just cannot hit worth a lick, and he’s not particularly adept at drawing a walk either. He’s as close to an automatic out as you can get in the American League.
His OBP, at .255, is just 16 points higher than his average, at .239, and the average is a career high. In 46 at bats, he has just one extra base hit, a double, good for a ratio of 1:46 (obviously). By comparison, Cervelli’s career extra base hit to at bat ratio is just 1:18.
Okay, you get it, Cervelli is the better hitter. Hell, Cashman has even admitted that Cervelli is the better player overall. This was a depth move through and through, and the front office has been honest about that from the beginning.
Here’s my problem with that. Players like Stewart are a dime a dozen. We’ve actually got a few of them in our organization. Gus Molina is capable of doing everything that Stewart has done this season for the Yankees. I’m pretty sure organizational player Jose Gil could also play a similar role to Stewart on the team (he’s in Double-A).
The other problem with having Stewart start for the Yankees as depth is that the Yankees are in a pennant race. This race is shaping up to be the tightest one in years, and with the new rules it will not be okay to settle for a wild card spot. The team needs to win, and in order to win you have to put the best team out there. Cervelli gives the team a better chance to win than Stewart. With Brett Gardner on the shelf for at least another month this offense needs any boost it can get.
Finally, let’s look at a worst case scenario. You waive Stewart and he gets picked up by some other team. Next, Cashman promotes Cervelli. He improves the team. Then, oh crap! Cervelli gets injured. Worse yet, Russell Martin does. Who becomes the new backup catcher? Well, there’s always the aforementioned Gus Molina and Jose Gil. Don’t have any faith in those guys? Okay, well backup catchers aren’t exactly difficult to come by, especially temporary ones. The Yankees got Stewart for George Kontos, a reliever with no major league experience. He’s pitched a total of one inning for the Giants so far, and he’s 27 years old. There’s no reason why Kevin Whelan couldn’t fetch us another Chris Stewart in a pinch. It seems like he’s pretty far down on the promotion ladder too. The team would rather sign a guy like Igarashi, who is pretty horrific, than give Whelan a chance. There’s your catching depth.
For argument’s sake, let’s look at the positives of Cervelli being in Triple-A. The team does have more immediate depth. He can get more at bats while he’s there, and more catching experience, which can’t hurt for a still just 26 year old catcher. There’s a problem with that though. Francisco Cervelli is not getting better at this point facing Triple-A pitching every day. As a matter of fact, the longer he stays there the more likely he is to develop some bad habits against inferior pitching. The Yankees are going to need him for the playoffs. If he is going to be ready to face playoff caliber pitching, then he’s going to need significant time to adjust. It can’t be just the last month or two of the season. It can’t be a September call up.
Finally, looking over the number of games Cervelli has caught the past few seasons, he has averaged about 59 games. He’s already caught 46 games this season. When he does play for the major league team, it’s important that he’s at his best. If they bring him up after having caught 90 games in Triple-A, he may be worn out. 90 games isn’t a ton, but for a guy who normally catches 59 a year it may be too much.
I am aware that this opinion is not groundbreaking. People have been confused about this move from the beginning. Stewart has been able to thwart some of that criticism by coming up with some clutch hits. Frankie Cervelli was known for such hits as well though (see above picture). Just sayin’. Now, with Austin Romine finally making progress in his return this argument is even more relevant. Cervelli is not going to be a game changer, but he could win a game or two for the Yankees they otherwise would have lost. That can be the difference between a pennant and a wild card. There is no legitimate reason to keep Cervelli in Triple-A any longer. This team has a pennant to win.