What Went Wrong: Romine, Stewart & Cervelli



The Yankees came into this season knowing Russell Martin was going to be their full-time catcher, but the backup job was up for grabs. Frankie Cervelli was the incumbent and Austin Romine was the high-ish profile prospect who broke into the show as a September call-up a year ago, so the best man in Spring Training was going to win. As it turned out, neither had what it took.

Austin Romine
Romine, 23, wound up with taking exactly zero plate appearances in Spring Training. He dealt with back inflammation — an injury that caused him to miss time last summer as well — in camp and suffered a setback towards the end of March. Romine didn’t get into minor league rehab games until July and it wasn’t until late-August that the Yankees activated him off the DL and send him down to Triple-A. He wasn’t brought back for a September call-up.

All told, Romine batted just 195 times between the minor league regular season and the Arizona Fall League in 2012. Instead of possibly spending the year cutting his teeth as the big league backup, it was a lost season in which the Yankees were unable to find out anything about Romine at the Major League level. Pretty much the only good news was that they never actually burned a minor league option this year, so he still has all three left. Some consolation prize.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Chris Stewart
The Yankees were concerned about their upper level catching depth in the wake of Romine’s back injury, so at the end of Spring Training they swung a somewhat surprising move, sending right-hander George Kontos to the Giants for the 30-year-old Stewart. Just like that, the team had a new backup catcher and the competition in camp was rendered moot.

Stewart, true to his reputation, didn’t hit a lick this year. He got on everyone’s good side with a handful of timely RBI singles in April, but overall he produced just a .241/.292/.319 (65 wRC+) batting line in 157 plate appearances. I thought his defense was solid but not as good as advertised — he threw out only eight of 35 attempted base-stealers (22.9%), for example — so Stewart struck me as a classic Nichols’ Law catcher. Considering the team’s midseason bullpen woes, Kontos (2.47 ERA and 2.80 FIP in 43.2 innings for the Giants) would have been a nice piece to have around.

(The Star-Ledger)

Frankie Cervelli
There was no more room left at the inn after acquiring Stewart, so the Yankees demoted Cervelli to Triple-A at the end of Spring Training. As if that wasn’t bad enough — Cervelli hadn’t spent extended time in the minors since 2009 — the Triple-A squad had to play on the road all season due to extensive renovations at PNC Field in Scranton. Frankie went from being the team’s backup catcher to a full season’s worth of bus rides in about five minutes.

Cervelli, 26, was supposed to go down and show the team what a huge mistake they had made, but instead he hit just .246/.341/.316 (89 wRC+) in 417 plate appearances. The Yankees recalled him  as the third catcher in September but only got him into three games due to the tight race with the Orioles. To Cervelli’s credit, he worked a hard-fought two-out, six-pitch walk in his first of two big league plate appearances, coming around to score the game-winning run in the 12th inning against the Red Sox in Game 161. Nice moment, but hardly a season worth remembering.

Categories : Players
  • Jerkface

    How did the Yankees not burn an option on Romine? They had to have burned an option, or else they burned a year of service time. He spent the entire season on the 40 man, so either he was optioned and placed on the minor league DL or he was placed on the major league DL and gained a year of service time.

    The latter is far worse.

    • Mike Axisa

      He was on the ML DL all season and collected service time. The union would have filed a grievance had the team send him down and stuck him on the minor league DL after suffering the injury in big league Spring Training.

      I think being able to send Romine up and down for the next three years is far more important than controlling his rights in 2018.

      • Jerkface

        I don’t see how losing a year of service time is better than losing 1 option. I can understand the advantage of being able to shuttle him up and down, but is that really going to happen? It is more important to have a player cost controlled. It is most likely that he will remain on the big league roster for some of those seasons and eventually he will have 5 years of service time and you’ll lose the ability to option him.

        • Mike Axisa

          If they have to send him down four years from now, there’s a much bigger problem than not controlling his rights in 2018. Being able to send him down 2013-2015 is more important to me.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            That first sentence is the most important point.

          • Jerkface

            But if they don’t end up having to send him down they just threw away an extra year he could be saving them from the free agent market, or an extra year of value for another team in a trade.

            If they are sending him down 3 times they are just as in trouble as if they had to send him down in 4 years.

            • Jerkface

              Wish I can edit, they didn’t throw away the year. That is unfair, there was nothing they could do except option Romine at the start of spring or something, which wasn’t going to happen. They have unfortunately lost a year of service time and its hard to see the positive in that.

              • Robinson Tilapia

                I’d still rather have the extra option. If he runs out of options, and you’re not sure of what you’ve got, you’re making a decision as to his future way before 2018.

                • Jerkface

                  If Romine isn’t able to hold a spot as even a backup catcher within the next 2 years his future is already pretty much decided. Shuttling back and forth to the minors for 3 straight seasons is very unlikely to happen. How often does it for position players?

                  Isn’t it more likely that he spends the entire year as a backup? Or as the would-be starter?

                  • Robinson Tilapia

                    If you’re a fringe guy, especially a third catcher type? It can happen more than I think you’re giving it credit for.

                    • Jerkface

                      If he is a fringe guy none of it matters. If he is the same Austin Romine that projected as an average starting catcher or nice backup then the year of control is better than his unlikely shuttling for 3 years.

                      He gets optioned twice, spends 2 fullseasons as a backup and boom you’re at the limit for optioning him without his consent.

                    • Ted Nelson

                      Sure, but what’s the value of one AAA C vs another? Minimal.

                    • MannyGeee

                      Lets face it, if we’re really in a position to worry about that extra season of team control in 2018, then that means things went really well for Austin…. We call that a ‘good problem’ to deal with in 5 years.

                      Although a betting man would put the Yankees using those options.

          • RetroRob

            Correct. The options are more important for flexibility.

            Of course, not sure it matters since it appears this is pretty much dictated by the CBA and the players’ union, although it is also possible that the Yankees knowlingly opted this route. They could have reassigned Romine to the minor league complex at any point during ST, only DLing him after the season started. If so, then the Yankees used Romine’s injury to what they view as the best advantage.

            • Ted Nelson

              Neither is necessarily “more important.” It depends on your expectations for Romine.

              • Ted Nelson

                And I don’t believe sending him down before DLing him would have helped. I believe it would have been overruled because he got hurt on the MLB roster.

                • RetroRob

                  Quite possible, although judging by the responses in this thread, also not entirely known.

                  I’ll save my thoughts on Romine for another thread, since that will really pull things off track.

      • Jerkface

        Also I am surprised that a player that is by no means guaranteed a spot on the major league roster, who had barely gotten double digit plate appearances in AAA, got to get major league DLed because he got injured in spring training. How super lucky for Romine.

        If I were the owners I’d get some clauses added to the option/DL section of the CBA, because it is insane they lost a year of service time on a player like that.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    One of the better write-ups in this series, Mike.

    I found Kontos/Stewart to be silly, but nothing that would challenge my self-imposed rule as to not losing sleep over middle relievers. It simply hurt me more because I felt like I’d been reading the name “George Kontos” for years and off he went in non-Rule-5 fashion.

    Romine’s injury issues were really unfortunate, especially as he was the next in line in the catching pipeline behind olwhatshisname in Seattle. I’m still interested in his development, although the possibility of chronic injury really dampers things for me.

    Whatever on Cervelli. Should have grabbed the bull by the horns. He now exists only as a poster on Eddard’s bedroom wall.

  • Jersey Joe

    Do the Yankees really have any young, catching depth anymore in minors? Whiteside and Cervelli not included, we have Romine, Murphy, and Sanchez. Meh.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Bird? O’Brien?

      Three guys with that sort of upside is still a lot for most orgs.

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        Bird is a full time 1st baseman now.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          I was going to leave him off because I thought they’d moved him away. Thanks.

    • Ted Nelson

      Top 50 prospect and two guys with legit MLB potential in AA and AAA is really, really hard to call “meh.” That is awesome depth.

      They used a 2nd rounder at C and signed one of the top IFAs overall on most media boards at C just this year.

  • Robert

    Romine should be one of the openning day roster catchers on defense alone. JR Murphy,Gary Sanchez and Pete O’Brien provide a pipeline of potential in the next 4 years…..Fill in with Cervelli,Martin and Stewart just do not expect more than minimal offense from the 2013 Yankee catcher!!!

    • 0-Fur is Murder

      That’s an idea. A horrible one. But still, it’s an idea…

  • mark

    I love the “Nichols Law Of Catcher Defense”. Hilarious.

    • Jersey Joe

      Same. I wonder if they have a similar law for center fielders. OK here it is:

      Bernie Law: If an outfielder is slow for his center field, he does not automatically have bad range.

      • MannyGeee

        The opposite is true as well… See: Granderson, Curtis

  • RetroRob

    Cervelli should be the most annoyed at Romine, who hid his back issues from the Yankees during the offseason, as well as early on in ST when he downplayed the level he was hurting. This caused the Kontos-for-Stewart trade at the last moment, forcing Cervelli to the minors because had an option while Stewart did not. With more reaction time, the Yankees would have been able to better address the depth issue in AAA to serve as backup to the MLB team. Cervelli became that answer in AAA, but probably would have remained the MLB back-up with more planning time.

    I think Romine was ticketed for AAA all along, since he had never played there, blocked by Montero in 2011. I can see a scenario where if he did well he might have been a mid-season call up to apprentice under Martin. That will be his situation in 2013, except Martin will probably be in the first year of a three-year deal.

  • Ted Nelson

    Not that I think he’s great, but I was disappointed by Cervelli. I definitely thought he could miss up for last development and overtake Stewart at some point…

  • Darren

    You know who the Yankees could have used this year?

    It rhymes with Jorge Posada.

    • Jersey Joe

      Actually, you know the Yankees could not have lived without this year due to injuries?

      It rhymes with Mall Ibanez.

      Ibanez filled in better with injuries to Tex and Gardner than Wise, Jones, Pearce, McGehee, you name it. Posada could have played catcher, but Martin was by no means HORRIBLE on offense.

      This is a joke, right?

  • Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle AKA True Yankee(TM)

    I really like Cashman, but outside of the Carl Pavano and Kei Igawa signings the Chris Stewart trade is probably the biggest boneheaded thing he’s done. Also, I’m not saying that with hindsight, when it happened I thought it was a dumb idea.

    • MannyGeee

      Not really though. It was a middle reliever in a shit ton of middle relievers being traded for an available back up catcher.

      That said, he should have found a back up with an option left, although some would say that a back up catcher with an option left would not in fact be available for trade….

      That said, how about a back up catcher that didn’t blow so royally. There’s the real question

    • Captain

      talk about overvaluing George Kontos

  • Rich in NJ

    They overvalue catching defense and undervalue offense, and it needs to stop.

    • Rich in NJ

      Signing Napoli would be a great start to declaring this mindset over.

    • RetroRob

      I think it is just the opposite. The Yankees would rather have an offensive-minded catcher who was acceptable defensively.