Yanks may need a co-starting catcher
WHO 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!