Francisco Cervelli hit two home runs in the Yankees 7-7 tie with the Tigers on Wednesday. He currently leads the team so far this spring in home runs (3), batting average (.500 on 8-for-16) on-base percentage (.556) and slugging percentage (1.125). They are relatively worthless early spring training numbers but Cervelli has repeatedly shown over the years that he is a major league-caliber catcher. He is doing everything he can to stave off competition for the backup catcher job from John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine, but by doing so he is also making himself into one of the Yankees best pieces of trade bait. It is a true Catch-22 for the 28-year-old backstop.
An experienced catcher who can hit a little is a coveted asset in the MLB marketplace and one in short supply. With the Yankees having signed Brian McCann to a 5-year deal this offseason to be catcher of the present and prospect Gary Sanchez advancing in the minors to be the catcher of future, the starting catcher position for the Yankees appears blocked for Cervelli for the foreseeable future. As for the backup position, in addition to Cervelli the Yankees have Austin Romine, who improved as the season progressed in 2013 and John Ryan Murphy who impressed in the minors last season.
Common sense makes Cervelli an expendable trade asset for general manager Brian Cashman. He has been linked to rumors involving the Mariners and White Sox all spring. With Cervelli’s injury history, it makes sense for Cashman to strike soon while the proverbial iron is hot and Cervelli’s value is likely at its highest point. Cashman may be able to work out a deal for bullpen or infield help and use either Murphy or Romine in the backup role. Today’s decision to switch catchers for the Panama trip further fuels suspicion that Cervelli may be headed out the door. Prior to his next start, all of Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka’s starts have been handled by Cervelli. Now McCann is staying in Florida to catch Tanaka while Cervelli will go to Panama. There had been thinking that the Yankees were setting up Cervelli to be Tanaka’s personal catcher and it’s not like the Yankees didn’t know when the man they gave a $155 million contract was pitching.
Cervelli has long been a fan favorite but he has never been a favorite of Cashman. After Cervelli’s involvement with the Biogenesis scandal and his 50-game suspension last season, it was not a guarantee the Yankees would even bring him back for another season. In 2012, he seemed to have won the backup catcher job only to have Cashman deal for Chris Stewart and sending Cervelli to a year of purgatory with the Triple-A club in Scranton because Stewart was out of minor league options. Now Cervelli is the one out of options and will thus need to be on the major league roster when the season starts. The question is which team’s major league roster will he be on?