Pirates grateful for Cervelli's contributions

Veteran catcher released, given a chance to join postseason contender

August 22nd, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates on Thursday requested unconditional release waivers for veteran catcher , giving him a chance to join a club contending for the postseason. Cervelli may soon find a fit in Atlanta.

Cervelli is expected to land with the Braves, as first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, after the Pirates cut ties with him before Thursday’s series finale against the Nationals at PNC Park. That move is not official, however, as the 33-year-old catcher must first clear release waivers. That should happen by Saturday, as no club is likely to take on the remainder of Cervelli’s $11.5 million salary by claiming him.

Cervelli hasn’t played in a Major League game since May 25. He had been on the 60-day injured list while working his way back from a concussion, though he caught seven innings for Triple-A Indianapolis on Wednesday and reported no issues throughout his rehab assignment.

"Obviously, kind of shocked. The word 'released' is a scary word,” Pirates starter Trevor Williams said. "I'm just glad to see he's healthy. I'm glad to see he really overcame this concussion catastrophe. We were really worried about him, and he was really worried. For him to be able to be healthy and to come out and be able to put on a big league uniform and contribute is really awesome to see."

Assuming he clears release waivers, Cervelli will be free to sign with the Braves -- or any other team -- for the prorated portion of the Major League minimum salary while the Pirates cover the rest of his expiring contract.

The Pirates decided to release Cervelli after the club had “multiple conversations with him and his agent regarding his projected playing time” down the stretch, general manager Neal Huntington said. With the Pirates’ focus set on next season and beyond, they could only promise Cervelli a spot in a rotation -- alongside controllable catchers Elias Diaz and Jacob Stallings -- when he returned to the Majors.

“We had a plan in place for here, for him to return to play,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We were always open-minded walking into it if something better could come along, a quicker opportunity to return to the big leagues as well as a more opportune experience, potentially with a playoff team, that we’d love to honor that for him.”

Sure enough, the Braves could offer Cervelli more playing time and another shot at the postseason. Catcher Brian McCann went on the 10-day injured list on Wednesday with a sprained left knee, leading Atlanta to call up Alex Jackson from Triple-A Gwinnett to share catching duties with Tyler Flowers. Both McCann and Flowers have struggled at the plate of late, with Flowers hitting .222/.299/.412 for the season while also allowing an MLB-high 13 passed balls.

“Out of respect and appreciation for Francisco, we have chosen to honor his request to be released in order for him to pursue an opportunity that potentially gives him a chance at more playing time, as well as an opportunity this season to compete in the postseason,” Huntington said in a statement. “We appreciate who Francisco is and all he has done for the Pirates and the city of Pittsburgh. We believe this was the right move for the right reasons and wish Francisco well.”

Cervelli began the season batting .193 across 34 games before he suffered a concussion when Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson’s bat struck him in the head on a back swing. It was the latest in a series of concussion issues for the veteran backstop dating back to his tenure with the Yankees. When he was healthy, however, Cervelli turned out to be a popular player and an important presence for the Pirates.

Cervelli was the third of three former Yankees who caught on in Pittsburgh. First came Russell Martin and Chris Stewart and then, after Martin left as a free agent, Cervelli. The career-long backup flourished in his first extended opportunity, batting .295 with a .771 OPS and 3.1 WAR while playing 130 games for the Pirates’ 98-win team in 2015.

Cervelli was also a hit with Pittsburgh’s fans, who immediately appreciated his effort, energy and walk-up song: “That’s Amore.” In May 2016, the Pirates signed Cervelli to a three-year, $31 million extension.

“He played with emotion and fire and carried that through up to his last game here,” Hurdle said. “We’re thankful and grateful for the connection, for the time here. We wish him nothing but the best moving forward.”

Injuries set back Cervelli each of the last four years, though he did bounce back to slash .259/.378/.431 with a career high of 12 homers and 57 RBIs in 104 games last season. He was frequently praised by Pittsburgh’s pitching staff for his game calling and leadership behind the plate.

“He just brings a big smile into the clubhouse every day and kind of brightens everyone else’s day. I think he makes everyone else around him better,” starter Joe Musgrove said. “It’s going to be a bummer not having him around anymore, but that’s the game of baseball. It’s a business, and you’ve got to be able to move on. The friendship doesn’t ever leave even though he’s not your teammate anymore.”