As cries of Buctober rang through Pirates Nation last fall, there was one question in the back of everyone’s mind: What was going to happen with Russell Martin?
His contract would be up at the end of the season, and with his stellar plays behind the plate for the Buccos, he would call a high asking price on the open market.
With the Pirates being at the bottom of the majors in salary cap, it was highly unlikely for them to re-sign Martin unless he settled for a massive hometown discount.
The short lived Buctober of 2014 came to an end, and Martin signed a five-year, $82 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, far out of the Pirates price range.
What will the team do behind the plate in 2015?
They just lost a catcher who was a leader in the locker room, calmed the Pirates pitchers on the mound and did the opposite to the opposing pitchers, batting a shade under .300 last season.
The answer came in the form of a trade with the New York Yankees, who received the Pirate’s relief pitcher Justin Wilson in exchange for their back-up catcher, Francisco Cervelli.
Going into spring training, Cervelli was not even guaranteed the starting catching spot, but to the Pirates faithful it didn’t matter who was behind the plate, it would be a substantial downgrade from the fan-favorite Martin, both behind the plate and in the batter’s box.
Quietly Cervelli won the starting job, and started the season as one of the few players in the lineup that hit consistently. But his solid job in the box was overshadowed by the abysmal batting of the rest of the team for the first month of the season.
He slowly moved up in the order, and now has an average over .300, the highest on the team, and he shares a dugout with former national league MVP, Andrew McCutchen, and 2014 batting title runner-up, Josh Harrison.
But he’s not just exceeding the expectations at the plate, but also behind it. There is no denying Martin has a better arm to second, but Cervelli holds his own throwing runners out. But what he lacks in terms of Martin’s arm, he makes up for it with grit, blocking countless pitches and giving up only five passed balls this season, six less than Martin in Toronto.
The rest of the country is noticing, too. Martin is third in the NL in All Star voting for catchers, and he undoubtedly deserves to be up there with the best in the business this season.
Stellar play, along with an easy-going, affable personality has quickly helped Cervelli capture the hearts of Pirates nation. When Martin left the Pirates, the team’s future behind the plate looked bleak and unknown, but the little-known Venezuelan catcher has been everything the Pirates and their fans could have hoped for, and much, much more.
Ernecoff is a THS graduate and current student at the University of Pittsburgh, as well as an avid Pirates fan.