Mailbag: Posada a DH too soon?

The worst eight weeks of the year
Draft pick not the only issue with Rafael Soriano
Taters! (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

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.

The worst eight weeks of the year
Draft pick not the only issue with Rafael Soriano
  • Mike HC

    It is tough to argue against having the flexibility of using Posada at DH or catcher, but I also think the Yanks are moving Posada to DH a bit too quickly. He should not be catching everyday, but Posada can surely handle some of the catching duties during the season. I hope Martin can get his career back on track and give us a major boost and take the pressure off of Montero, but if that does not happen, I want to see Posada behind the plate as much as possible.

    • crawdaddie

      Posada was horrible behind the plate last season. I wouldn’t mind him catching maybe once a week if Pettitte comes back, but it’s time to turn the page on Posada being the everyday catcher.

      • Mike HC

        He can definitely be pretty atrocious, no doubt. And I don’t want him catching everyday either, But he should be at least once a week, and I’m thinking more like 2-3 times per, personally. Of course all depending on Martin. If he reverts to his all star form, then he is the guy. Time will tell.

        • Ross in Jersey

          I wouldn’t mind Posada catching 1-2 times a week either. He can always be lifted late in the game for a defensive replacement. Hopefully being a DH the majority of the time will keep him healthy and possibly even a bit more mobile behind the plate.

          • Mike HC

            Definitely. With this 100%.

          • BigApple

            the only issue with that is Posada’s bat…he hits really well, has become more clutch in recent years and the switch hitting is added versatility.

  • Max

    No no no no no no Vlad. No Vlad. No Vlad. Plz?

    His first half was a fluke. The guy would swing at the ball if the ump was holding it in his hand behind him. Watching him at the plate in the ALCS against the Yanks was just sad.

    On Thome, I agree about the platoon.

    And generally, I think Posada will put up fine numbers and roster flexibility is wayyyyy more important.

    • Ross in Jersey

      Just because Vlad doesn’t fit the Yankees team at this time doesn’t mean he isn’t a valuable player.

      Yes, he swings at everything. He also has put up Hall-of-Fame caliber numbers with that mentality. He wasn’t so sad in the ALCS when he delivered the finishing blow in game 6. He also was pretty good the year before.

      Is he the same guy he used to be? No. Is he still valuable in a vacuum? Yes. Just saying.

  • Johnny O

    Agreed. I’m generally in the younger is better camp (unless they allow greenies again) and really offense shouldn’t be the Yanks’ main problem in 2011. They’ll hit/score enough runs to win. Pitching and defense is another story so I think the Martin upgrade at C is worth a slight hit in the offense for overall team success. Nothing wrong with Posada catching ~20 games but you’ll probably see an A-Rod/Jeter/Tex combo during those games. Or The Jesus, if he’s up, which I’d prefer over Thome and Vlad all day.

    • Ross in Jersey

      Nitpicky but how will defense be a problem in 2011? Jeter and A-rod have limited range but they still have strong, accurate arms. Tex and Cano are way above average defenders. The Yankee outfield is one of the best in baseball defensively, and their catching should be vastly improved with Martin. I don’t see the issue there.

      Pitching, on the other hand…

      • Johnny O

        Do you include throwing out baserunners as defense? I agree the defense as a whole is a huge problem, but it’s more of an issue than the offense IMO.

        Basically I like the team better with Martin as C and Posada as DH than I do with Posada as C and Thome or Vlad as DH. The only argument for Thome/Vlad is that our offense isn’t good enough, which I think it is plenty fine to get us through the season.

      • Sayid J.

        Tex and Cano are slightly above average defenders. I like them both, but to call either of them way above average presents some bias I think.

        • Ross in Jersey

          Possibly, since I watched Cano and Tex every day. I don’t think it’s a stretch to call them above average just from the eye test, though.

          • Johnny O

            You’re probably biased because you watched Giambi for 7 years.

            I think Tex is great defensively but am not qualified to argue otherwise since the metrics generally don’t favor him.

  • Smallz_LOS

    I agree with just about everything you said. Listen, I love Posada but the guy is a 100% liability behind the plate. His catching days are over. Its amazing he lasted as long as he did behind the plate. Start the season with Martin as catcher, Cervelli will probably get the back up job coming out of camp and Montero will probably be brought up once he hits his stride in May-June. I was really expecting them to move Montero for a pitcher but I am glad they didn’t. As for Thome and Vlad, we’re not lacking offense. That says it best.

  • Enoch44

    Gabe Kapler’s dive is a better .gif than Vlad’s:

  • Ed

    For me, Posada’s defense doesn’t really factor into the discussion.

    After avoiding the DL for most of his career, he’s been getting hurt a lot over the last few seasons. I think he’s just reached an age where his body just isn’t holding up well to the wear and tear of catching.

    Treat him as a DH and maybe occasional catcher and you can probably get 120 games out of him. Play him as a catcher and sometimes DH and I think you’re lucky to get 80 games out of him.

  • Mike S.

    No Posada behind the plate. Not for more than say, 15 games this year max. I love Posada and Mo, but that game last year in which Boston ran ragged on them was pathetic, and that was WITHOUT Ellsbury or Crawford.

  • danimal

    Hey Mike, is that the best .gif ever?

    Mike: “Yeah, best .gif ever.”

  • Vinny Scafuto

    Let’s say Posada has an excellent year as a DH. Assuming proper development of Montero as a catcher, do they bring back Jorge for another year, or is this it? I can’t remember him ever saying that he thought this was his last contract.

  • Reggie C.

    I definitely want to give the Russell Martin experiment at least one season. Its not just the Yanks who think Martin can turn it around at the plate.

  • kendubrowski

    “…No, he almost assuredly won’t hit like any of the free agent DH’s, but a) the Yankees aren’t exactly lacking offensively…”

    I don’t agree with that anymore. I think that in fact they may be lacking. Many of the older players will have a hard time reaching the BA numbers they did last year and many of those BA numbers have been trending downward.
    Mark Teixeira .256
    Derek Jeter .270
    Alex Rodriguez .270
    Jorge Posada .248
    Granderson .247

    Age and health are going to keep coming up from here on in as the Yanks transition to youth but that relies upon players like Montero to make an impact in their first year to a new league, Cano to stay at his expected levels or that Swisher repeats a career year and begins an upward trend like Paul O’Neill did.

    No, I am really concerned about the offense this year and really would like the see a much stronger bullpen that can hold an opposing team in check so that we will not have to rely on offense in the event the Yanks age much faster then we hope.

    • Mike Axisa

      Batting average is one tiny piece of the offensive puzzle. The Yankees had the highest on-base percentage in the league last year (by nine points!) and the third highest slugging percentage.

    • Ross in Jersey

      If you question if Cano and Swisher can repeat their 2010 performances don’t you have to logically question if Tex, A-rod, Posada (who should improve as a fulltime DH) and Granderson will repeat their sub-par performances as well? Your worries seems a bit doomsday-ish in that you expect the good performers to fall off AND the subpar performers not to improve.

      • kendubrowski

        No not at all Ross. It’s not doomsday to look at the decline in players past their prime. And it’s not logical to say if someone questions if a player can repeat on the numbers then shouldn’t other players improve on sub-par years because all players have to be looked at individually.

        I’m not a big fan of OBP if the driving in of runs keeps dropping off and the pitching is not there to keep the game close and that was my point.

        I’m not sure Posada will improve at DH as that is not a given. Derek did not hit well last year as he did in the past and the discussion amidst others was that he could not catch up to fastballs as he once did. There is concern that A-Rod may have more of an increased decline due to hip issues and will never hit as he did prior. Granderson has had several sub-par years and if you are hoping that he may improve, then that leads to the discussion on how much are we hoping for improvement from “ALL” Yankee hitters especially those over the age of 34? Jeter, Posada,etc. Offenses can stall very quickly due to age and you have to admit that this is one of the issues this lineup faces. Age.

        You can say this for anyone but more so here.You just don’t know how the year will play out and what injury to older players will effect an offense that had a poor BA last year and found it difficult to drive in runs “in key moments” even while leading the league in having men on base. Since the post steroid era we have seen players not bounce back as quickly from injury or poor years and that will continue. I don”t think we will see 37- 38 year old players hitting 40+ homers. I feel that the offense has aged and may not be as productive as some of you suggest.

        I would rather see a stronger bullpen to offset the inability to drive in runs or an aging offense that is in my mind looming and instead shut down teams by making it a 6 inning game as has been done in the past.

        See, not doomsday…

        • Mike Axisa

          I’m not a big fan of OBP if the driving in of runs keeps dropping off…

          That doesn’t make sense. You can’t drive runners in if there’s no one on base. OBP tells you how often people get on base, and the Yankees were the best at it in 2010 by a considerable margin.

          • thenamestsam

            Also, this is not something you can be a fan of or not be a fan of. The respective correlations between OBP, BA and runs scored are facts.

            • TLVP

              – Scientists are trying to confuse us with such things as facts.

              – Mr President, you cant say that. Facts are true.

              – How do you know that?

          • BigApple

            and with more guys on base the pitchers are throwing more pitches and the bullpens go to work earlier…its yankee baseball 101

  • Marc
  • Bruno (The Manchine)

    “Doug” must not realize that Posada CANNOT stay healthy for a full year behind the plate. This isn’t a video game where injuries can be turned off.

    • Bruno (The Manchine)

      Plus, having Posada as the DH allows them to carry a 3rd Catcher that has plenty of experience with almost all of the pitchers on the staff, making the shift to Martin/Jesus alot easier. THIS cannot be overlooked/undervalued.

  • James

    Catcher defense is vastly underrated. Unfortuneately, it’s just not sexy. It’s not a homerun, or a strikeout to end the inning, but when it’s lacking (and thus exploited) it is endlessly frustrating to this fan. (I used to love when Molina would catch…) IMO, this is long overdue. Posada’s bat has always been his saving grace. Defense was never the strong part of his game.

    I remember seeing splits of Posada’s slash line, as far as catcher vs. DH, as being much better when he was catching. I also remember seeing Posada being interviewed about a potential DH switch in the past and coming across as “how dare you” that it would even be brought up. Imagine that, by the NY media of all people. It just leads me to believe that it’s all psychological, so I applaud Girardi for telling and not asking.

    Anyways, sorry for rambling. Posada’s defense has been a bit of a sore spot for me for what feels like forever.