The next time Jorge Posada plays in a game for the New York Yankees, he will be nearly eight months past his 37th birthday. The next time Jorge Posada plays in a game for the New York Yankees, he will expect to be the starting catcher with three years and $39.3 million left on his contract. The next time Jorge Posada plays in a game for the New York Yankees, the debate over his contract will have more than run its course.
But let’s begin. We start prior to last season when the Yankees were hesitant to sign either of their two veteran free agents-to-be to long-term contracts. Both Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada were due for a pay raise by the end of 2007, but the Yankees, rightly concerned about their ages, opted to negotiate after the season. While Rivera had a sub-par year (for him, at least), he was handsomely rewarded and has earned his keep this season.
Posada, on the other hand, starred in a whole different tale. Jorge had a career year in 2007, turning in an MVP-caliber .338/.426/.543 line and a 154 OPS+. Always valued for his bat, Posada really took his game to the next level, and the Yanks paid dearly for it. Jorge inked a four-year, $52.4 million deal and promptly injured his throwing arm during the first game of the season.
When the Yanks signed Posada to the deal, baseball analysts were surprised. Giving a 36-year-old catcher a four-year, $52.4-million contract is hardly a sound baseball move, but the Yankees, with their deep pockets, knew they were paying for one of the team’s key leaders and offensive movers. They knew that Posada, by the end of the deal, would hardly be a viable option behind the plate, but they also knew that Posada, due to an early-career platoon with now-manager Joe Girardi, didn’t have as much wear and tear on his legs as other 36-year-old catchers.
Today, Posada’s 2008 is a far cry from his 2007. He managed just 234.2 innings behind the dish and just 195 plate appearances. His throwing, sapped by a seriously damaged shoulder, was impacted, and his power was nearly gone by the time he opted for season-ending surgery. The .268/.364/.411 is well below Jorge’s normal production levels.
Already, critics of the Posada deal are howling about the Yanks’ wasted money. What team in its right mind would ink a 36-year-old catcher to such an exorbitant deal? This injury, they say, is just indicative of things to come.
Now, I admit that a four-year deal for a catcher may not have been the wisest, but I believe, for now, that line of thinking to be spurious. Posada injured himself in a way no one expected and in a way not usually associated with aging catchers. He threw out his shoulder. It happens to outfielders and pitchers. It could happen to Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez tomorrow.
The real question concerning Posada’s deal will come in his recovery. If the doctors can clean up his labrum and if he can rehab himself back to full strength, then the deal will have looked bad for one year. If he can come back and hit, all will be forgotten. His value, after all, lies in his bat. But if this injury impacts the rest of his career, then we can bemoan the contract.