Yanks may need a co-starting catcher

Jorge-1-19-250-250.jpgWHO WILL HOLD THE UMBRELLA OVER JORGE POSADA WHEN A RED SKY RAINS BITTER TEARS?
In the past weeks the rumors have been circulating that Jorge Posada won’t be ready for the spring training kickoff. These rumors were confirmed by Brian Cashman himself: “Posada will not be able to catch by the exhibition opener Feb. 25, Cashman said, but he is on track to be ready for the regular-season opener April 6.”  Now, you have to take that with a grain of salt the size of the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota. The Yankees won’t know for sure what shape Posada’s catching skills are in until he actually squats down and does the deed. They won’t  know how his throwing is until he, well, throws.  They won’t know how the arm snaps back from use until he uses it. And so Posada’s ability to catch this season–how well, how often, if at all–still hangs in doubt. And don’t forget that the injury also affected Posada’s hitting as well, his power all but vanishing.

At this writing, the one thing that seems certain is that the days when the Yankees could count on Posada for 140 or more games are gone. That presents a problem, a familiar one. The only other catchers on the 40-man roster are Jose Molina and Francisco Cervelli. The Yankees have also invited five non-roster backstops to camp. Kevin Cash is the only member of that quintet who possesses major league experience, though most of that experience is comprised of making outs. The same thing goes for Molina, and is also indicated in any reasonable forecast for Cervelli, who, thanks to that pointless spring training collision, has yet to play in any meaningful way above High-A. Given his offensive shortcomings, which include the complete absence of power (he even slugged a lowly .350 in the Venezuelan Winter League), the Yankees would be wise to ticket him to Double-A and let him play his way upward, proving that his one solid hitting tool, his batting eye, stays with him as he climbs.

Unless the Yankees make a trade for a young catcher who can “apprentice” with Posada the way Posada did with Joe Girardi–as self-defeating as that apprenticeship probably was for everyone involved save Girardi–at least 40 games, possibly more, will be in the hands of Molina, which is about 40 games too many. Molina is a very good defensive catcher, such that if a team with basestealing talent comes through town he’s worth a spot start or two. The Yankees have the Phillies on their interleague schedule this year, a team which not only runs frequently, but picks its spots exceptionally well. That might be a series where it would be worthwhile to see a lot of Molina, ditto the odd game against the Rays. The rest of the time, Molina is an anchor, capable of competing for the title of Worst Hitter in the Game. With Brandon Inge heading back to third base, he is almost certainly the worst-hitting catcher in the game.

Now, you might be saying, “But Stevie, catching is such a scarce commodity that most reserve catchers can’t hit!” True, but (A) no one says the Yankees have to settle for the weakest of the lot, (B) with Posada possibly reduced to part-time status, we’re not talking about a reserve, we’re talking about a co-starter, and (C) even if not, there is no reason to ignore the strategic advantage that depth at the position confers; your team achieves offensive consistency at catcher 162 games a year, while the other guy vents at least a quarter of his schedule on, well, Jose Molina.

In fairness, achieving such depth might not always be possible. Yet, for the Yankees, given their awareness of Posada’s indeterminate state, need to make replacing Molina a priority or risk losing any close pennant race. They’ve already blocked the Red Sox off of Mark Teixeira this winter. Now it might be wise to block them off of Miguel Montero of the Diamondbacks. Right now, the D’backs seem to be holding out for a big return on the 25-year-old, and the Yankees are starting to run out of fungible Jeff Marquez types. The good news is that if Montero is too big a target, there are many catchers loose in the jungle, almost any of whom is likely to outhit Molina in a part-time role.

No doubt I will get comments saying, “Cripes, fat, bearded Pinstriped Bible guy! The Yankees have Teixeira! They have A-Rod! They signed every starting pitcher of woman born! They can afford to let 300 at-bats of catching slide to the replacement level!” To this I say, maybe they can and maybe they can’t. Last year should have taught us, and the Yankees, never to take anything for granted. Their actions this winter indicate that they have learned that lesson very well, but there is still–always–one more thing to do.

A QUICK WORD ON THE ORIOLES TRADING FOR PIE
The Orioles have now completed an outfield that should be death to flying things in Felix Pie, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis. Other than Markakis, I don’t have complete confidence in how the lot will hit, but Matt Weiters taking over at catcher at some point this season (and Gregg Zaun backing up–another guy who might have helped the Yankees, though he’s fading fast), Aubrey Huff boosting up their first base production, and even pathetic Cesar Izturis upgrading shortstop, the O’s lineup is going to have more substance on both sides of the ball than it has in years. Pitching remains a concept, but at least those Yankees-O’s games won’t be such predictable snoozefests this year. The AL East just became even tougher. Fortunately, the Blue Jays’ pitching staff has been so decimated that they’re likely to supply the requisite Free Parking quotient. The Perfect Division will have to wait for another year.

MORE FROM ME
With my time on the Baseball Prospectus over, Wholesome Reading is back. I have a couple of posts up now and will be adding more on a frequent basis. Today’s short stack o’ sermons has a musical bent inspired by Sunday’s concert for Obama in Washington, and touches on Woody Guthrie, Buddy Holly, “American Pie.” I’ll also be posting reactions to Mr. Obama’s inaugural address on Tuesday. Haven’t gotten to type this in a long time: Warning! Politics!

16 Comments

The situation may even be more precarious than you suggest because it’s likely that Posada will try to rush back from the surgery (which was reportedly quite extensive) in less than nine months from the date it was performed, when in fact if good judgment prevailed, he would wait a full year, especially since he’s almost 40, before pushing himself in order to improve the chances of a full recovery.

So if Montero or Saltalamacchia can be had at a reasonable price, they should seriously consider it, rather than pursuing yet another replacement level (or near replacement level) option. I would hope that Ian Kennedy can sufficiently raise his trade value in ST to make himself a valuable trading chip that can be included in any package.

Posada is my biggest worry – and I posted this earlier today in another forum. I’m concerned that the Yankees are counting on Posada to return to 2007 form. However, there are many factors working against this: (1) Age. He’s older than last year and 2 years older than 2007. (2) Health. His injury was serious and his surgery extensive. I’d be concerned if he was 21, but he’s almost double that. (3) 2007 was a career year. It’s unlikely, (especiallly given 1 & 2, above) that he’ll return to those numbers. (4) If Molina, or someone as non-offensive catches, there are a lot of holes in this lineup. C, CF & RF are offensive positions. (5) Posada was talking about playing in that world league thing. What’s he thinking? I think Posada is being counted on too much for 2009.

There seem to be to few catchers to go around. Even if the Red Sox bring Varitek back it is only a short term solution with no permanent solution in sight. Good luck to both our teams in solving this problem.

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

Steve,

What about the Yankees two highly rated catching prospects in the minor leagues, Jesus Montero and and Austin Romine? If Posada can’t make his full compliment of starts could one of these two be called up to join the team? I seem to remember they both have nice offensive numbers in the minors. If the Yankees traded for a Saltalamacchia, Teagarden, or Miguel Montero where would that put the aforementioned catching prospects?
Also I would make the case that Miguel Montero might not be the best choice if they did decide to make a trade. He didn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball last year hitting .255/.330/.435. Marcel projects a similar performance with .254/.324/.423 for 2009. Those numbers don’t impress me, so I would be interested to know how that stacks up against the league average for catchers. I know for a fact that those numbers are below the overall league hitting projections except the SLG average.

Neither Montero nor Romine will be ready this season and probably not until 2011.

Miguel Montero had a 94 OPS+ last season at age 24. It’s reasonable to think that he will be at least league average offensively this season. Molina, otoh, put up a 51 OPS+ in 2008, so Montero would be an ginormous upgrade.

I don’t see any need for panic unless Posada is totally unable to compete. Jose Molina is a tremendous catcher. He just can’t hit. The 2009 Yankee lineup should be able to carry his bat. Jorge’s problem is he will rush himself because of his intense competitiveness. He is the epitomy of a true Yankee and I pray he can continue his career. There aren’t many catchers that can hit and I don’t see the Twins trading Joe Mauer any time soon.

THIS PORKY SO CALLED SPORTS WRITER NEEDS TO RETIRE AND GO AWAY, FAR,FAR AWAY. THE YANKS SHOULD HAVE NEVER GIVEN POSADA THE BIG CONTRACT, AS ALL HE HAD WAS A LUCKY YEAR AT BAT IN 2007. HE COULDN’T THROW OUT ANYBODY. AS FAR AS MOLINA IS CONCERNED, TELL US US CHUBBO GOLDMAN:::: HOW MANY GAMES DID MOLINA WIN BY THROWING OUT BASE RUNNERS? MORE THAN A MORON LIKE YOU CAN COUNT!!!!! NOW PLEASE RETIRE AND GO AWAY, FAR, FAR AWAY. MAYBE THEN THE YANKEES WILL FIND A REAL SPORTS REPORTER, OR BETTER YET GO JOIN THE REDUX WRITERS TEAM, AS YOU WOULD FIT RIGHT IN AT FENWAY!!!!!

.213/.263/.313. I am not sure how many out’s he’s made, but with 262 ABs and 12 BBs, it’s about 202 outs. If he had raised his OBP to a still horrible .300 in those 274 PAs he would have made 10 less outs, 192.

With his 44% runners Caught Stealing rate, he ranked very high. A normal catcher might have a number like 33%. With the same number of attempts, he threw out 8.25 more runners with a 44% CS rate than he would have with a 33% rate.

If his OBP was raised to a more respectable (for a catcher only) .315, it’s 13 less outs to 189.

Posada’s career (not just 2007) OBP is .380. With an OBP of .380 instead of .263, Molina would have been out 32 less times. Which is very close to the number of runners he caught stealing 33. So in this little exercise, Posada would have only had to catch 1 runner in total to balance that, which, as bad as his arm is, probably is a little low for him.

In other words, throwing out the extra base runners don’t help that much if the bat is that bad.

What about signing Mike Piazza and having him catch and have Molina as a late inning defensive replacement/backup? I believe that this could be a viable option. Piazza couldn’t catch as good as he use to but he was still a pretty good hitter at the time he retired. If I was the Yankees I would think about this option.

It’s very important that they find another catcher, and it’s too bad Cervelli had the wrist injury last year. He has some on base skills, but still needs to come back a bit before he can help. Last year, the below average hitters we were running out there like Molina, the centerfielders and Cano for the first month and change, really dragged down the value of the ARod and the other good hitters. They reallly can’t let that happen again. It’s important to get a league average bat or better at every position to reap the full benefits of having Damon, Tex, ARod, etc. btw, how did the Yanks ever keep winning with Richardson and Tresh batting 1-2?

You’ll get no cripes from me. I totally agree with you.

Drew
http://mypinstripes.blogspot.com

Steve,
I don’t think Pasoda’s arm will be ready either. What do you think about J.P. Arencibia in the Blue Jays system? He can really hit. But I don’t guess the Jays would want to trade one of their top prospects to someone in the A.L. East, especially the Yankees. I enjoy your column.
Steve

A solid pickup for the Yanks would be Catcher Saltalamacchia of the Rangers. I believe they would trade him for Corvelli and one of the Yanks young pitching prospects. He is a solid sleeper with great potential.

Saltalamacchia is anything but a sleeper. He was the prime piece in the first Teixeira trade. The Rangers would want a lot.

You’re right, Posada probably can’t be counted on to play at a high level this season, and at 40, may not ever again. Catching however is mostly a defensive position, and good hitting catchers are a rarity and a bonus. You want a catcher who can call a good game and keep baserunners honest. All the more reason to re sign Abreu for the offense that will be missing from the catchers spot in the batting order, and let Molina do his behind the plate. The pitchers like him and defensively he’s better than most.

to repeat…my personal choices for back up catcher
in order
jose molina…ok he is a spotty hitter…but his prowess
at calling a game and throwing out runners make up for his one shortcoming…except for centerfield..the yankees have
excellent hitters…or on base threats..

john buck..kansas city royals…trade molina and melky cabrera..ok hitter…not much of an extra base hitter but…decent glove..

chris snyder…arizona diamondbacks…young versatile..has not proven he can hit for average..another good matchup in a trade…arizona always seems in a rebuilding stage after their one world series championship..
just think
2010
lf…? one more year of damon…couldn’t hurt
cf ..austin jackson ? let’s hope he is real deal
rf…? nady/swisher
3b a-rod
ss jeter ?
2nd b cano?
1st b texeira
catcher…snyder…keep him away from mets
dh posada

pitching is in a surplus…enough extra arms considering 2-3
are pretty much recovered from tommy john surgery…

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