Tuesday served up a wide array of news around Major League Baseball. On the field, the game provided its typical brilliance. Khris Davis hit three home runs, including a walk off grand slam. Noah Syndergaard dominated the Nationals. Clayton Kershaw was brilliant again. In other words, it was a typical night in Major League Baseball. And, like most days, news away from the field made for some interesting talk.
Pirates Sign Cervelli To Three Year Deal
The Pittsburgh Pirates are proving to be masterful at signing their talent to reasonable, somewhat below market value deals. They did that earlier this year with Gregory Polanco. And, now, they added Francisco Cervelli to that list, signing the 30 year old catcher to a three year deal worth a reported $31 million. Cervelli spent seven years as a Yankees backup catcher and was traded before the 2015 season for reliever Justin Wilson. Cervelli made the most of his starting opportunity last season, slashing .295/.370/.401 in 130 games played, nearly identical to his line the previous season in just 49 games as the Yankees’ backup. This season hasn’t been all that much different as Cervelli has hit .289/.393/.349 through his first 39 games.
He’s grown into an above average defensive catcher as framing metrics rate him as one of the best backstops in the sport. This year, he’s thrown out 33 percent of base runners. In just a little over one full season, Cervelli made himself a viable starting catcher who would’ve gotten plenty of attention on the free agent market. Sounds weird, right? Consider that since the start of last season, Cervelli ranks first among all catchers in on base percentage and third in batting average hits. Add in his defensive prowess and a very thin free agent market and it would be easy to see Cervelli receiving more than $31 million over three years.
The Pirates now have their catcher locked up at a reasonable rate. With most of the core in place, they can now start to plan on whether or not they can afford Andrew McCutchen and when they will start to look at a deal for Gerrit Cole.
As far as the cost and expected production, the Pirates got a great deal. It’s deals like this that allow them to sustain success despite a smaller payroll.
Braves Fire Gonzalez
Perhaps the most controversial news of the day was the Atlanta Braves firing Fredi Gonzalez. On the surface, this looks like Braves’ management is placing blame on Fredi Gonzalez and are trying to make him the scapegoat for their historically bad start at 9-29. It looks like the organization is trying to deflect their poor record with some news of “hey, we are doing something here and we actually care about this season.”
That’s actually pretty ridiculous, even if that’s pretty much the narrative.
Is it unfair to Gonzalez? Absolutely. He could not have done one single thing to make this team a winner. He has a team that is worse than a Triple-A team trying to compete against Major League talent. The fair thing to do would have been to fire him over the winter. But, they didn’t because it would’ve acknowledged that the Braves are in the middle of a necessary but very painful rebuild. They were hoping to catch a magical start similar to the Phillies. Because Gonzalez is well liked by many in the Braves organization, he was kept. Unfortunately, it was the wrong move for him because he never had a chance.
The lack of fairness to it all is a legitimate story. But, firing a Manager is rarely ever fair. Most times, firings happen because teams under-perform or management feels that a move would spark improvement. That doesn’t seem to be the motivation behind this firing. While the Braves won’t ever comment publicly, it’s probably more about Gonzalez not really working with the current young players in the way that management wants. And, with more of “their guys” heading to the Major Leagues in the near future, they don’t want a Manager who is frustrated. They want someone who is happy to have the opportunity and who will work with the young group the way management wants.
The only troubling part of the firing is that the Braves don’t really seem to have the next step here. Interim Manager Brian Snitker doesn’t seem to be their answer as they aren’t committing to him. And, without a Joe Maddon-type candidate as a possibility, this comes off as more of a firing without having a plan.
Again, this is probably about having a man at the Major League level who can give management’s order in the way they want. Gonzalez wasn’t a John Hart hire. Hart and GM John Coppolella will now structure their on field management team in their vision over the winter. This isn’t an attempt to fix this season or cover up this year. This has everything to do with how they want to bring up and nurture their young talent.
Cubs Take A Chance On Nathan
The Chicago Cubs signed 41 year old veteran Joe Nathan to a Major League minimum contract with an option for next season. Nathan was promptly put on the 60 day disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John Surgery. Nathan, one of the best closers of his generation, is attempting to comeback from his second such surgery and having struggled over the past couple of seasons. This is all about depth and taking a flier for the Cubs. The Cubs will be playing deep into October and the idea of collecting possible pitching depth for their bullpen is smart. They obviously aren’t counting on Nathan, but if he can recover to have any of form he showed in Minnesota and Texas, he can be a help to bridge the gap to closer Hector Rondon.
There is zero risk taken by the Cubs. If he can be serviceable, they get value. If he can’t, they just risked a minimum contract. For Nathan, he gets a chance to maybe catch on with a World Series-favorite. At 41 years old and recovering from surgery, this is the best possible scenario. The odds of this working out aren’t good, but the Cubs seem to push all of the right buttons lately. Perhaps Joe Nathan is just the latest example.