Yankees shouldn't just settle on a backup catcher

January, 20, 2009
OK, so nobody outside the Tri-State Area is laying awake at night, worrying about the Yankees' No. 2 catcher. But that's exactly the sort of thing that Steven Goldman is paid to worry about, and his worries are always worth reading

    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 …


    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.

The Yankees' biggest limit is not their "budget" or the disapproval of owners in Milwaukee and Miami. Their biggest limit is their 25-player roster limit. They might have signed more than two starting pitchers this winter if they didn't already have Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain, and Philip Kennedy. They might have signed Pat Burrell or Adam Dunn if they didn't already have two or three guys just like them. But backup catcher? That's one roster spot that should be completely available. And if you've got the Yankees' "budget," why not fill every roster spot with a useful player?

What's more, while Goldman argues the Yankees need a "co-catcher," there's also the distinct possibility that they'll need a catcher, period. If not this year, then next. And next winter the only free-agent catcher worth signing -- if he doesn't re-up with the Indians in the interim -- will be Victor Martinez, and it's not completely clear that he'll be a catcher for much longer, himself.

It's funny, really: for months we've been wondering if the Red Sox would bring Jason Varitek back; and even if they did, would they go after his eventual replacement now. Well, we're still waiting to find out, but meanwhile it's become apparent that the Yankees are in roughly the same position, wondering about a franchise stalwart and what happens next.

Yes, the Yankees can probably survive for another season with Posada and one of the Molinas. But why should they have to settle?



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