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Cervelli open to contract extension, but Pirates keeping mum

| Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, 6:06 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli watches his fourth-inning grand slam during the first game of a double header against the Cardinals onWednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, at PNC Park.

Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli is open to remaining in Pittsburgh beyond 2016 and is waiting for the club to begin dialogue regarding a contract extension, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

Cervelli can become a free agent after the 2016 season.

Cervelli took to Pittsburgh last season. On the field, he appreciated the chance to be an everyday catcher and rewarded the Pirates, who acquired him from the New York Yankees, with a career-best campaign filling the sizeable void left by Russell Martin. Off the field, he likes the city and became a regular at Adolfo's in Bloomfield, where the Italian-Venezuelan found acceptable Italian-Venezuelan cuisine.

Even though Cervelli is only nine months away from free agency and is expected to rival Baltimore's Matt Wieters as the top catcher available next winter, Cervelli would consider foregoing the open market if the Pirates offered a three-year extension offer worth roughly $13 million per season, according to a source.

Cervelli and the Pirates agreed to a one-year, $3.5 million deal to avoid arbitration earlier this month.

Assuming one Win Above Replacement is worth $7-8 million on the open market, such a contract would be a value for the club if Cervelli repeats his 2015 performance (3.8 WAR). Cervelli has a .284 career average and .357 on-base mark, but the 29-year-old has struggled to stay on the field at times during his career.

Do the Pirates have interest in extending Cervelli?

“We do not discuss negotiations — potential or active — publicly,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “We like Cervelli a lot and would welcome the chance to have him remain a Pirate in the event we are able to find a contract that makes sense for both the player and club.

“We are also fortunate to have two quality catching prospects that are near major league ready in case we are not able to reach common financial ground.”

The Pirates and Cervelli have time to find common ground if they choose. The Pirates reached contract extension agreements with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Josh Harrison in March and April in past years. The Pirates face a dilemma with Cervelli.

Does the club commit a significant portion of payroll to keep Cervelli off the open market next offseason and add him to a core position player group that includes McCutchen, Jung Ho Kang, Harrison and Marte, who are signed through at least 2018?

Or do the Pirates let Cervelli walk and turn to catching prospects Elias Diaz and Reese McGuire beyond 2016? According to MLB.com, the Pirates are the only club with two top-10 catching prospects in McGuire (No. 4) and Diaz (No. 6). McGuire is expected to begin at Double-A this season. Diaz received a September call-up last season.

Cervelli was perhaps the steal of last offseason, acquired from New York for reliever Justin Wilson.

After missing 199 games to injury the previous four seasons, Cervelli stayed healthy and led all catchers in his ability to frame pitches, saving 26.7 runs above the average catcher, according to StatsCorner.com.

Advanced catching defensive metrics have become more greatly valued throughout the industry.

Travis Sawchik is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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