TAMPA, Fla. -- The New York Yankees have acquired backup catcher Chris Stewart from the San Francisco Giants for right-handed relief pitcher George Kontos, which means Francisco Cervelli, the Yankees' backup catcher for the past three seasons, is headed to Triple-A.
It was a stunning development on the last day of training camp, coming just after Cervelli had tied the Yankees' final preseason game with a two-run home run against the Mets, and about an hour before final rosters had to be submitted to the league.
It clearly blindsided Cervelli, who was red-eyed and stunned as he spoke with reporters at his locker after he was given the news.
Asked if he was surprised by the news, Cervelli said, "Oh, yeah. To wait to the last day? Yeah. What can I say?"
Cervelli did not have a good spring -- he hit .204 with one home run in the seventh inning Wednesday off Eric Beaulac, a Mets farmhand who spent last year in A ball. But when Austin Romine went down with a back injury early in camp, it was widely assumed Cervelli would fill the backup role he has since 2009.
"This was a tough one," Joe Girardi said of the decision. "As tough as any I've had to do."
According to GM Brian Cashman, the injury to Romine, coupled with Cervelli having minor-league options, did not made his decision automatic.
"We feel Cervelli is a major league guy, without a doubt," Cashman said. "But now we're back to where we were before the Romine injury, and even though it's not a good situation for Cervy to go to Triple-A, organizationally, we're in a good place with Russell Martin, Stewart and Cervelli."
Romine's lower-back soreness is apparently worse than the Yankees originally believed. "I want to say he's got a very small, probably disk issue," said Cashman, who said Romine received an epidural injection last week. "It's not a massive thing."
It was big enough, however, to leave the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees without an everyday catcher, a role Cervelli now will be asked to fill.
Cervelli, who hit .266 for the Yankees with four home runs and 22 RBI in 43 games as the backup to Martin last year, was not happy with Cashman's explanation.
"I don't understand their reason," he said. "I got no comments about that. Maybe the other guy is better than me right now."
Stewart was briefly a Yankee in 2009, appearing in one game and going 0 for 3. He batted .204 for the Giants last year with three homers and 10 RBI. At 30, he is four years older than Cervelli but has less major league service time, 1.09 years compared with 2.11.
"I'm disappointed with this, but that's never going to change anything," Cervelli said. "All my life I've had to do things double, triple. If they want me to prove that I can catch in the big leagues, I'll go and prove it.
"They want me to show what I got? ... I'll show them that I'm a big league catcher. That's it."