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Cervelli shining brighter as future clouds

Veteran catcher having impressive spring as trade rumors swirl
03/13/2014 9:59 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli watches one of his two home runs in Wednesday's tie with the Tigers.(AP)
TAMPA, Fla. - Francisco Cervelli may be the most valuable player the Yankees have right now, even if no one is sure that come April 1, he'll even be a might not even be a Yankee at all.

Now 28 and in his 12th year in the organization, Cervelli is in the midst of another torrid spring; he hit two home runs on Wednesday - the first time he's ever done that in a game, as far as he remembers -- and he leads the team in home runs and slugging percentage while carrying a not-so-shabby .500 average.

Add in what he's done defensively (three runners caught stealing and a couple of great plays at the plate), and Cervelli is, by all looks, he is dominating the three-way competition to see who will back up Brian McCann this season.

It's a great comeback story for a guy who saw injury and investigation take him from nominal starter to season-long spectator in 2013, and knowing how so often Cervelli has seen spring success turn into April angst, one can easily root for him to succeed.

But the fact is that Cervelli's hot spring might not be enough to win him a job with the Yankees this season - because it could, in fact, end up being too much.

With every strong performance this spring, the rumors swirl even harder that Cervelli may actually be playing his way out of town, becoming more and more of a valuable trade chip who could help the Yankees land a piece they covet in return.

"(The trade possibility is) something that I can't control. I'm here, this is my house today, and I don't know what will happen tomorrow. I come here and do whatever they say, and I can't control what happens," he said. "I've been here forever, but I've told you guys before that my dream is to be a starting catcher, so if somebody wants me (elsewhere), I have to make the adjustment."

He's doing his part, for sure, but as Cervelli looks down the row of lockers in the back of the Yankees' clubhouse where the catchers reside, he sees three highly-touted young prospects and a multiple-time All-Star added over the winter - one added in part because of the uncertainty that followed the April 2013 day where Cervelli broke his hand and had his biggest chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of being a starter catcher yanked from him.

To Cervelli's credit, he said that he learned a lot from what happened in 2013 - including, he joked, to keep his right hand behind his back when he's catching - and has brought that renewed attitude towards what could be the biggest spring of his life.

"Honestly, last year was one that you want to forget. But you take the positive side and you see, if I was playing like that, I can do it again, and I've got to keep working because I'm not going to stop," he said. "I slowed down the game a little bit, had a lot of time to think about it, and I think I feel better catching and hitting. Things happen, and you just have to deal with it and come back stronger."

But is that realization too little, too late, at least as it relates to his tenure in pinstripes?

Scouts from several teams, reportedly including the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox, have been on hand at Yankees games scouting the catching depth, and with the Yankees coveting depth elsewhere, team brass could soon reach critical mass and make Cervelli the "spare" part sacrificed for a more integral one.

Joe Girardi will tell you that he believe Francisco Cervelli has the ability to be an everyday catcher, even as reality tells you that if all goes to plan, there's little to no chance that he'll fill that role in New York any time soon.

Sadly, such is the dichotomy of his career right now; the more Cervelli succeeds this spring, the more he becomes a player in limbo, both he and the Yankees torn between reality and desire, what is and what could be.

And that, Cervelli says, only makes him work harder.

"I'm never going to stop (working hard) because opportunity is going to come again. This is my house right now, today; I don't know what happens tomorrow, so all I can do is my job."

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