Doug asks: With productive bats like Thome and Guerrero still out there as free agents, would the Yanks have been better off delaying Posada’s shift to DH for a year? In other words, would a Posada (plus Cervelli/Montero)-Thome (or Guerrero) C-DH combination have been better than the Martin (plus Cervelli/Montero)-Posada combination we appear heading for? Chad Jennings over at LoHud touched on this yesterday and I’d love to hear RAB’s take on it.
I honestly don’t think so. Would the offense be better with Vlad or Thome as the everyday DH and Posada doing most of the catching? Absolutely, there’s no denying that. The defense and overall roster flexibility, however, would take a pretty big hit. As crazy as it sounds, Posada is more of a catcher than Thome is a first baseman and Vlad (or Manny) is an outfielder (best .gif ever? best .gif ever). Of all the free agent DH’s, I think the best fit might have actually been Johnny Damon. He can fake the outfield better than either Vlad or Manny, and he’d be decent insurance in case Brett Gardner’s wrist problem persists into the new season. But I digress.
The biggest issue with Thome is that he’s a platoon guy, so you’d need a competent right-handed bat to split time with him. The Yankees are looking for a righty hitting outfielder, so maybe he could have been the guy, but I think that player would be in line for much more playing time than the team appears willing to offer with Thome as the DH. I don’t think we can ignore that last season was Thome’s best in four years either. What are the odds of him repeating that effort at age 40?
Vlad, on the other hand, had a monster first half in 2010 (.339/.382/.580 with 18 homers in Texas’ first 77 games) but a downright pedestrian second half (.265/.310/.419 with 11 homers in the final 85 games), and he didn’t hit a lick in the playoffs (.220/.242/.271). I don’t put much weight on career playoff performances, but that last part has always been one of his weak spots (just .263/.324/.339 in 44 career postseason games).
Thome is apparently seeking upwards of $8M a year, presumably using Lance Berkman’s contract with the Cardinals as a reference point. Guerrero, meanwhile, still thinks he’s going to get a multi-year deal somewhere. That’s rather pricey for a DH. Russell Martin signed for $4M with incentives tied to how well he performs, and the Yankees will have the opportunity to keep him for the 2012 campaign at a below-market rate as an arbitration eligible player. If they don’t want to keep him and hand Jesus Montero the job, Martin’s easily tradeable or can simply be non-tendered.
That’s another thing to consider, the Montero factor. At some point in the upcoming season he’ll be called up and given a shot, something that would have been difficult to do with one of those veteran DH’s. Do you really see the Yankees sitting a future Hall of Famers like Thome or Vlad or Manny in favor of a 21-year-old kid? Maybe I’m underestimating them, but I’d be surprised if they did. Sitting Martin in favor of Montero is no big deal.
As for Martin himself, he shores up one of the team’s most glaring weaknesses, and that’s defense behind the plate. He’s a guy that can actually block a ball in the dirt and keep it in front of him, and he’s thrown out 31.5% of attempted basestealers in his career. Last year it was 38.6%. With Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury on the same team in Boston, as well all the basestealers Tampa still has (B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist, even Evan Longoria), that will definitely be nice to have. No, he almost assuredly won’t hit like any of the free agent DH’s, but a) the Yankees aren’t exactly lacking offensively, and b) he improves the team in a much needed way. Remember, a better defensive catcher helps make the pitching staff better, albeit in a pretty small way.
I can absolutely see the argument for sticking with Posada at catcher for another year while reaping the benefits of a big bat at DH, but the defense behind the plate was something that absolutely had to be upgraded. It went from below average to an unacceptable level that cost the team quite a few runs last summer. We saw how easy it is to acquire a DH at the trade deadline just last year with Berkman, so if Martin doesn’t cut it and Montero isn’t ready, the Yankees will have the option of shifting Jorge back to catcher and getting another DH. I don’t see it happening, but that’s an option they now have open.