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Pirates extend Francisco Cervelli, lock down catcher position

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates have announced a three-year extension with Francisco Cervelli. Via Jeff Passan, Cervelli will receive a total of $31 million. Cervelli will receive $9 million in 2017, $10.5 million in 2018 and $11.5 million in 2019, Stephen J. Nesbitt tweets.

"We are very pleased to be able to reach a joint commitment with a quality player and person like Francisco Cervelli," said GM Neal Huntington. "We look forward to Francisco’s abilities, passion and energy making us better through at least the 2019 season."

Cervelli is a terrific player who's been very important to the Bucs since the departure of Russell Martin, but this deal surprises me. Cervelli is already 30, so this deal buys out his age-31 through -33 seasons. Those aren't years that tend to be particularly friendly to catchers. Also, Cervelli's deal, combined with the Bucs' recent extension for Chris Stewart, effectively locks down the Pirates' catcher position for the next several seasons, even though two of the club's top prospects, Elias Diaz and Reese McGuire, are catchers.

Diaz, however, recently went down with elbow surgery and could be in the midst of a lost year, while McGuire has continued to hit poorly for Altoona. The Pirates might see those players as less important parts of their future than they did a year or so ago.

And, of course, Cervelli has value that isn't captured in traditional statistics, in that he's a good framer who works well with his pitching staff. Cervelli has posted a remarkable .373 OBP in parts of two seasons with the Bucs, and we shouldn't expect that to continue from 2017 through 2019. He likely will, however, continue to help Pirates pitchers. And while Cervelli has produced like a borderline star in two years in Pittsburgh, it appears his extension won't really pay him like one. Even if he fades, $31 million isn't an exorbitant price. In fact, it's comparable to the total amounts players like Denard Span, Darren O'Day and Gerardo Parra received from other clubs last offseason. With all due respect to O'Day, Cervelli is clearly much more important than any of those guys.

Cervelli leaves money on the table as a result of this deal, since, assuming he stayed healthy, he would have gotten more in free agency. For him, though, this deal is a significant payday, given that his early struggles with injuries resulted in him earning only about $7 million through his first six seasons in the league.

Cervelli is only a Pirate in the first place because the Bucs faced the departure of another popular catcher about whom we could have made some of these same arguments. The two situations aren't exactly alike, obviously -- Russell Martin's deal with the Blue Jays will pay him more than twice as much as Cervelli will get. But the Bucs were able to get Cervelli for the relatively low price of Justin Wilson, then pay him small amounts these last two seasons.

You could say that, given the brutal aging patterns of catchers, a better path for the Pirates would have been finding the next Cervelli, rather than paying higher prices for this one. In fact, I think I have said that.

That might be easier said than done, though, and the results the Bucs have gotten with some of their reclamation projects this year show that sometimes it's just better to pay something much closer to the going rate for a known quantity. Big-league players are expensive, and sometimes you've just got to pay them, rather than relying on budget players to outperform their modest salaries. Kudos to the Pirates for coming to that conclusion in Cervelli's case.