Pirates cut ties with catcher Francisco Cervelli | TribLIVE.com
Pirates/MLB

Pirates cut ties with catcher Francisco Cervelli

Jerry DiPaola
1576269_web1_GTR-Bucs-Cervelli01-070819
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates’ Francisco Cervelli watches batting practice before a game against the Cubs at PNC Park.
1576269_web1_GTR-Bucs07-042019
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli celebrates after scoring during the first inning against the Giants Friday, April 19, 2019, at PNC Park.

The news reached the Pittsburgh Pirates clubhouse several hours before Felipe Vazquez was asked about Thursday’s release of his friend, catcher Francisco Cervelli.

“I still can’t believe it,” he said. “It’s going to be tough for everyone.”

The Pirates had been playing without Cervelli since he went on the concussion injured list May 26, and it was common knowledge he would not be re-signed after his contract expired at the end of this season.

Still, Vazquez, the Pirates’ closer and the most successful pitcher on the staff, said pitching without Cervelli as his backstop will be an adjustment.

“He knew everything about me,” he said. “The pitches I wanted to throw in any count. It’s not going to be easy to find another guy who’s willing to be on the same page as you. I think I have to communicate a little more with (Elias) Diaz and (Jacob) Stallings just to get on that same page.”

Vazquez said he will speak to Cervelli at some time — he still had not returned to gather belongings from his locker — but he wasn’t sure what he would say.

“He knows everybody here loves him,” Vazquez said, “and I think that’s more than enough.”

The Pirates cut ties with Cervelli, who caught 427 games for the team over most of the past five seasons. His release leaves Starling Marte and Francisco Liriano as the only players in the clubhouse who were with the Pirates’ most recent playoff team (2015).

Officially, the Pirates requested unconditional release waivers for the purpose of giving Cervelli, 33, his unconditional release. The move ends the Pirates career of one of the team’s most popular players — inside and outside the clubhouse — but it had a sense of inevitability to it.

Cervelli has been plagued by head injuries throughout his career, suffering at least six concussions during his 12 seasons in the majors. The day before he went on the injured list, he played his last game for the Pirates, leaving after getting hit in the mask with a bat that slipped from the grasp of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Joc Pederson. At the time, Cervelli, who entered this season with a lifetime slash line of .273/.362/.383, was slashing .193/.279/.248.

He has played six games this month on rehabilitation assignments with Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, getting eight hits in 19 at-bats. Despite the inherent dangers of kneeling behind the plate, Cervelli repeatedly vowed to return to the game as a catcher.

“For me ,I want to see him catch tomorrow,” Vazquez said. “It’s not easy getting back there and getting hit every day. He doesn’t know what else to do besides catching. Hopefully, we’ll see him again catching.”

Because of Cervelli’s contractual situation, the Pirates did not believe there would be much opportunity for him to play over the final 36 games. The Pirates said they released him when they did to give him a chance to connect with another team before rosters are locked Sept. 1.

“As Francisco has worked through his rehabilitation, we have had multiple conversations with him and his agent regarding his projected playing time for the remainder of this season with the Pirates,” general manager Neal Huntington said in a statement. “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.”

Cervelli carried the highest annual salary on the team this season ($11.5 million), but cutting him will have minimal effect on the Pirates’ payroll. They will pay what’s left of Cervelli’s contract. Any savings that would occur if he signs with another team for the major league minimum (about $3,000 per day) will be offset when the Pirates add his replacement to the payroll.

The Pirates traded for Cervelli on Nov. 12, 2014, sending relief pitcher Justin Wilson to the New York Yankees. He was the last of three former Yankees catchers who came through Pittsburgh, following Russell Martin and Chris Stewart.

Cervelli played in a career-high 130 games in 2015, 128 behind the plate, while helping the Pirates win 98 games and reach the postseason. He hit a career-best .295 with seven home runs and 43 RBIs that season. His best homer/RBI season was 2018 (12/57) when he caught 94 games.

The Pirates have replaced Cervelli this season with the tandem of Diaz and Stallings. They have been sharing the catching duties almost equally in recent weeks. Diaz is hitting .247 and Stallings .267. They have a combined five home runs and 32 RBIs.

Cervelli’s release, the trade last year of Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Burnett’s retirement and Jameson Taillon’s arm problems have left a wide leadership void in the Pirates’ clubhouse that management must find a way replace.

“He had the leadership on the field to a greater degree than he ever did before,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He created a very positive wake. He played with emotion, played with a fire and continued to carry that through up until his last game here.”

Hurdle said he attempted to contact Cervelli on Thursday but ended up texting him.

“I have every inclination I may see him again,” Hurdle said. “He’s in a good place. He’s looking forward to what’s next.”

Love baseball? Stay up-to-date with the latest Pittsburgh Pirates news.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Pirates
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.