Cervelli hoping to follow in Martin's footsteps for Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) When the Pittsburgh Pirates couldn't retain catcher Russell Martin as a free agent catcher last November, they decided to trade for his former backup.

The Pirates acquired Francisco Cervelli in a deal from the New York Yankees on Nov. 12 for left-handed reliever Justin Wilson, just days after Martin rejected their $56 million, four-year offer. Cervelli backed up Martin in New York during the 2011-12 seasons.

The deal received the seal of approval from Martin, who eventually signed a five-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays for $82 million.

''I was actually relieved they were able to get someone like him to take my place,'' Martin said. ''There's a guy that can actually do some things defensively. I definitely feel like he can get the job done. He has endless energy and he plays the game as hard as anybody.''

The Pirates like Cervelli's defense, particularly his pitch-framing ability.

He is also a serviceable major league hitter with a .278 career batting average in 250 games over seven seasons with the Yankees. Last year, he hit .301 in 49 games.

However, Cervelli has had problems staying off the disabled list. He has broken his right wrist, left foot and right hand during his career.

Injuries also led to his actions that caused a 50-game suspension in 2013 for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy. The ban came after an MLB investigation found Cervelli had visited the office of Anthony Bosch, who was convicted for selling illegal performance-enhancing drugs in the Biogenesis scandal in Miami, in 2011.

Cervelli admits he hoped Bosch could help speed his recovery from the broken foot and says he regrets his mistake.

Cervelli also feels he is ready to handle being a No. 1 catcher - the Pirates are hoping he can start 100-110 games with backup Chris Stewart handling the rest - despite never playing more than 93 games in a season.

''Perhaps in the past, I wasn't prepared to play a lot of games,'' Cervelli said. ''I think I've learned some things, though. I understand the opportunity I have here and I feel I'm prepared for it.''

Cervelli is spending as much time preparing mentally as he is physically this spring training as he tries to learn a new pitching staff. He has spent many evenings taking pitchers to dinner individually in an effort to learn their pitching philosophies and personalities.

''It's fun,'' Cervelli said. ''I love that kind of thing. The most important thing you can do as a catcher is build trust with your pitchers. I want them to feel comfortable with me.''

And the Pirates are comfortable giving Cervelli a chance to finally fulfill his dream of being a starting catcher.

''He is a hungry learner,'' manager Clint Hurdle said. ''He's asking questions, having conversations, watching video tape. He takes the job seriously but he is also a fun guy to have around. We're glad to have him.''

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide — from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Grant Wahl, Andy Staples and more — delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.