Craig Tatum & The Catching Picture

2012 Season Preview: Tampa Bay Rays
Minor League Notes: Pearce, Double-A, DePaula
Craig Tatum is judging you. (Rob Carr/Getty)

The Yankees made a somewhat surprising move yesterday by claiming Craig Tatum off waivers from the Diamondbacks, surprising only because a third string catcher didn’t seem to be high up on the priority list. Sure enough, we later learned that incumbent third stringer Austin Romine had suffered a setback while recovering from a back problem that has kept him out basically all spring. The Yankees suddenly had a need behind the plate, especially since Frankie Cervelli isn’t exactly Mr. Durable.

Tatum, 29, is nothing special, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. There’s a reason he was on waivers, and in fact this is the third time he’s been claimed since October. The Orioles, Astros, and D’Backs have each deemed him expendable this offseason. Tatum does his best work on the defensive side of the ball, with Baseball America saying he’s “a solid receiver who frames pitches, blocks balls well and calls a good game” in addition to having “above-average arm strength” in their 2009 Prospect Handbook, the last time he made the annual. A .256 wOBA in 299 big league plate appearances is an accurate representation of his offensive ability.

It’s worth noting that Tatum is out of options and can’t be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers. I know he’s already been claimed three times this winter, but chances are he will clear the fourth time. Since the Yankees were awarded the winning claim from Arizona, that means Tatum went through the entire NL unclaimed as well as the entire AL since the Yankees finished with the best record in the league last year. New York was dead last on the waiver priority list, so he would have cleared if it wasn’t for them. Chances are he’ll clear whenever they try to send him down.

There’s not much to say about Tatum himself, but what is important is what he represents. Tatum is a reminder that catching depth has a way of disappearing quickly, just like pitching. Things looked great a few months ago when the Yankees had Russell Martin, Jesus Montero, Cervelli, and Romine at the upper levels, but now less than two weeks before Opening Day they’re down to Martin, Cervelli, Tatum, and a hobbled Romine. The herd has already been thinned out.

This is something that goes beyond the 2012 Yankees as well. Romine figured to be a somewhat important part of the club’s future following the Montero trade, especially since Martin is due to become a free agent after the season and the Yadier Molina contract has changed the salary  landscape. Now Romine is a question mark because of recurring back injuries. If he continues to have problems, the team’s long-term catching situation is going to be a real concern. It’s an important position, arguably the most important on the field, and the depth the Yankees appeared to have a few months ago has been compromised. Let’s hope for some positive catching developments this summer.

email
2012 Season Preview: Tampa Bay Rays
Minor League Notes: Pearce, Double-A, DePaula
  • Mike Myers

    Whats Sal Fasano doing these days?

    • ROBTEN

      Last I saw him, I think he was headed for another castle.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I laughed.

    • nsalem

      watching his mustache grow.

  • Typical MIT Nerd

    Shows how quickly a strength can turn into a hole (ask the Rangers too). I was never convinced on Romine but he has always seemed to have a higher ceiling than Cervelli.

    The prices on Martin and Molina should scream “Stay Away!”. But the stopgap could be ugly. Here’s hoping Murphy and Sanchez show enough this year to find themselves in AA. Any chance either make it that far? Any word on where Sanchez is starting? If both are at Tampa to start the year, Trenton seems possible if not likely.

    • Havok9120

      His catching ability is lagging farrrrrrr behind his hitting. Trenton would be a reach considering the whole package. Charleston or Tampa (probably Charleston to start) is the better bet. I don’t know enough, or much at all, about Murphy, but if Sanchez is being moved up for catching reasons it could be a pretty long road.

  • jsbrendog

    gus molina sheds one lone tear

  • Monterowasdinero

    Romine should be worried. Back problems that keep a 23/24 year old, light hitting catcher out of all of ST is a dark cloud.

  • vin

    Wonder what the odds are of Tatum making the team as the BUC with Cervelli going to play everyday in SWB while Romine gets healthy. 5%?

    Also, on a side note, is Jose Gil the new Omir Santos?

    • DM

      I thought that too. Only b/c it would make sense for Cervelli to catch those AAA prospect arms until Romine got healthy — but it doesn’t seem like that’s their intention.

      • Plank

        I don’t think the downgrade to the Yankees by having a worse BUC makes up for the positives of having Cervelli play every day.

        • DM

          My thought was that Tatum would be barely used in April due to off days and the usual rain outs – temporary, and despite Cervelli being perceived as a catcher, he hasn’t caught all that much due to injury and a premature promotion. These backups play in ST — then the music stops when the season starts. It’s fine for a veteran backup but Cervelli is a younger player without the experience at catcher most think he has.

  • mustang

    “This is something that goes beyond the 2012 Yankees as well. Romine figured to be a somewhat important part of the club’s future following the Montero trade, especially since Martin is due to become a free agent”

    But don’t the Yankees have even more catching depth i.e. Gary Sanchez and others?

    I know what this thread is trying to imply but for all the talk form Seattle about how good Montero looked behind the plate in the spring he has DH the first 2 games.

    I know I know only 2 games, but still if they have such confidence in him as a catcher put him behind plate he their future not Olivo.

    • mustang

      from not form

    • Robinson Tilapia

      No love for poor, sweet JR Murphy.

      • mustang

        If Mike is not giving him any why should I.

        LOL

        Sorry and Mr. JR Murphy.

    • Monterowasdinero

      He is 22-even younger than Romine. No rush. He is a #5 hitter against righties and lefties at 500K a year. He will catch 30-40 games this year and they can decide about his increased catching load after this season.

      • mustang

        Please dude I admire your love of the guy, but please take the blinders off for one minute. If they really thought that he could be anything like Posada behind the plate they would start him. Seattle not going anywhere it’s the perfect chance to develop him as a catcher from go.

        I never questioned is bat, but when your counting him towards your STARTING catcher depth then that I question.

        • jjyank

          +1

          I loved Montero too, but Monterowasdinero has gone a bit over the edge since the trade, posting his ST stats in almost every thread and finding some way to work him into almost every conversation. We get it man, you had a huge man-crush on Montero. We all did (hell, one of my girlfriend’s friends actually dated him in SWB). But the reality is that he is likely not capable of being a starting catcher. Like mustang said, Seattle is not going anywhere soon, so the perfect time to develop Montero’s catching abilities at the major league level is now. I find it rather telling that they are also DHing him.

          • mustang

            I was a bit surprise that they DH him the way they talked up his catching this spring. Even if they plan to use him part time I would think it would be a big confidence boost for the kid to start opening day after all the negative talk about his catching abilities.

            • jjyank

              Or even the second game. Not to be cynical, but part of me thinks that talking up his catching abilities (perhaps similar to talking up Pineda’s change up, we don’t know yet) is partly a PR move. Nobody wants to lose a trade, so of course the Mariners will say that Montero can catch. When it comes time to use him in a game situation, however, that can change. I’m not saying Montero can’t be a DH/BUC, but I think some of us are/were blinded by the prospect hype and believed Montero could be the next Mike Piazza.

              • mustang

                I agree with your theory, but lets keep it in perspective its only 2 games maybe they are waiting to get back to the states and show him off in front of the hometown fans.

                My main point here is that from the current information it’s questionable to imply that the Montero trade insufficiently hurt the Yankees STARTING catcher depth. If Montero was on the Yankees he would be DHing and they probably would of sign Craig Tatum anyway. Montero would of just given them some extra part-time catcher insurance.

                • Plank

                  The Mariners said they plan to catch him 30-40 games this year. I would think the Yankees would have done something similar. But what do I know?

                  • mustang

                    I guess, but we are talking about the Mariners and the Yankees a bit of difference don’t you think?

                    It just seem to me like the perfect time to develop Montero as catcher, but like you what do I know and again only 2 games.

        • Monterowasdinero

          Posada? Caught his first game for the Yanks at age 25. First full season at 26. We’ll see.

          • Plank

            That’s anecdotal evidence of a very atypical career path. It’s notable because of how out of the ordinary it was.

          • mustang

            What does age have to do with it? Buster Posey played 108 games at 23!

            If he can play the position then his age shouldn’t matter especially on a team going no where.

            • mustang

              Brian McCann 130 games at 22.

              Im not even trying hard.

              • mustang

                124 at catcher and for Pose 76 at catcher.

    • Plank

      Their catching depth beyond Romine isn’t going to be ready in the time frame that applies to what to do after Martin. Gary Sanchez could be in the majors in 3 years if he’s aggressively promoted and doesn’t hit any snags (unlikely.) Maybe (big maybe) JR Murphy. He got some time at A+ last season. If he goes to AA by the end of this year and spends a full season in AAA, he would be MLB ready to start 2014. No one else is really on the map that should be in the discussion.

      Martin is in the last year of arbitration, so they have to choose between Romine, Cervelli, Martin as a FA, or another FA next off-season.

      • mustang

        By all signs it seem like they weren’t counting on Montero to fill that gap either, or else why trade him, so it brings us right back to where they are today.

        • Plank

          Yeah. The question mark now is Romine. He has missed a month of Spring Training and is now on the 60 day DL. If he can’t establish himself this season due to injuries (looking that way) or ineffectiveness, that will probably throw a wrench in the Yankees’ plans. If I were the Yankees I would have eased him in at the end of this season and have him share catching duties for 2013. That plan may be impossible now, so the situation has changed since the Montero trade.

          Also, they may have consciously made the decision to have a hole at C than a hole in the rotation.

  • Ted Nelson

    They voluntarily got rid of a big part of their short-term C depth, so I don’t think this is the “see depth can vanish in a moment” instance a lot of people are making it out to be. If you trade it away, yeah it vanishes. (We can debate whether Montero is a starting C, but he was at least depth at the position.)

  • David K.

    Just another reason why trading away Jesus Montero was a stupid move. Romine was having back problems before the trade. Cervelli has always been a serious injury risk for whatever freaky reason. Russell Martin is just one year removed from serious surgery. Doesn’t add up to trading your best prospect, especially when he is a catcher.