What happens if the Yankees trade Montero?

(Kathy Willens/AP)

During the three and a half years of RAB’s existence we’ve gotten excited about a number of prospects. At our inception it was Phil Hughes, and it quickly turned to Joba Chamberlain (and even Ian Kennedy). The latest in the prospect craze is Jesus Montero. He is considered by many talent evaluators, including Baseball America’s Jim Callis, to be the game’s best hitting prospect. The only question is of whether he can catch in the bigs.

At the end of the regular season I answered a mailbag question about the Yankees catching situation in 2011. Ideally they’d carry Montero, Jorge Posada, and Francisco Cervelli. That would allow Montero and Posada to rotate between catcher and DH, with Cervelli serving as a true backup (i.e., plays once a week). But we know that ideal situations don’t often come to fruition. Plenty stands in the way of the Yankees and their heavy hitting catcher rotation.

Reader Mike writes in with an interesting question about the situation:

Isn’t 2011 the make or break year to use Montero? I mean lets say the Yankees want to go with Posada/Cervelli at C and someone else DHing that means Montero will end up in AAA again. But won’t that block Austin Romine‘s development? Isn’t Romine due for a promotion to AAA, and you can’t have both those guys on the same level considering both need to be playing everyday in the minors.

I’m not sure it’s a make it or break it year, but it certainly will mean something for Montero’s development. There’s a decent chance that Montero breaks camp with the team and plays the role described above. Yet there’s still a good chance that he opens the season back in Scranton. That means Romine starts in Trenton again, since, as Mike mentions, both players at this point need to catch full time. Romine could then move up to AAA once the Yankees are ready to promote Montero. Splitting the season between AA and AAA might be a good thing for Romine, who still has plenty of development ahead of him.

That might not seem interesting; it actually sounds pretty normal. What’s interesting is the question I asked myself after reading Mike’s question: What happens if they trade Montero? He might be the team’s best hitting prospect since Nick Johnson, but he’s not untouchable. As the Yankees rebuild the pitching staff this winter they might find that Montero helps them more as trade bait. We can all make a list of what players the Yankees should target if they trade Montero, but what I want to know is what the team plans to do at catcher in that scenario.

Going with Posada and Cervelli again is a poor idea. Posada started just 78 games at catcher, 10 fewer than in 2009. The Yankees simply cannot count on him to provide much production behind the plate. I doubt they sign a DH this off-season, in fact, because Posada will have to fill that spot often. That leaves Cervelli as the starting catcher, a role for which he is not suited. As a once-a-week back-up he’s more than adequate. Even if he has to spot start while the starter goes on the DL, you could do a lot worse. But if he’s the only one who can take on full-time catching duties, the Yankees should look elsewhere for a better alternative.

On the free agent market there aren’t many upgrades. Victor Martinez is the best of the lot, but there are a number of points against him: 1) He’ll cost a draft pick, 2) He’ll be 32 next year, 3) He has defensive issues, 4) He’ll almost certainly be overpaid by a catching-starved team. There are a couple of free agent catchers, John Buck and Miguel Olivo (should his option be declined), who can hit for power, but that’s the only dimension to their games. Perhaps the Yankees could look to one of these guys as a one-year stopgap, but I’m not sure that they present that large an upgrade over Cervelli.*

While Olivo had 3.2 WAR and Buck 2.9, they did it with over 100 more PA — and there’s no guarantee that they can repeat that in 2011. At the same time, I expect Cervelli’s defense to improve, since most of it consisted of mental lapses, which is a correctable issue.

Another option is to work a trade. This would likely be for a player coming off a down year, such as Mike Napoli, or a 2012 free agent. Again there aren’t many attractive names there, though Ryan Doumit does stand out a bit. The Pirates recently acquired Chris Snyder, who will likely start behind the plate for them in 2011. That means the Pirates can trade Doumit, who is one of their better bargaining chips. The only issue is that he is also not a great defensive catcher. Neither is Napoli. But, since Montero isn’t, either, I’m not sure the Yankees would be losing out in this aspect.

There will be temptation this winter, particularly if Cliff Lee signs elsewhere, to trade Montero in order to upgrade the pitching staff. But doing so would leave the Yankees in a bind of sorts. The available veteran catchers are not world beaters; Montero could potentially outhit them all next year. He might not stick at catcher in the majors, but he’ll hit anywhere, even if it’s DH. After looking at the alternatives, I think it’s better to hold Montero and try to use other pieces, or just cash, to upgrade the pitching staff.

What Went Wrong: Chad Ho Moseley

Every team has a few of them every single season; replacement level relievers, or worse. Most of the time these guys are buried in the back of the bullpen, throwing low-leverage innings once or twice a week when his team had a big lead or a big deficit. The Yankees were (un)lucky enough to have three guys like that this year, and they even came with a cheesy nickname: Chad Ho Moseley. Let’s review…

(AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)

Chad Gaudin

After a solid job as the Yankees’ makeshift fifth starter down the stretch last season, Gaudin was rewarded by being released in Spring Training. He ended up back in his old stomping grounds in Oakland, at least until they released him after 17.1 innings of 5.91 FIP pitching. The Yanks brought him back in late-May for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum and stuck him in their bullpen as a mop-up guy.

That’s pretty much exactly what Gaudin was, because opponents mopped the floor with him during his second tenure in pinstripes. He was somehow even worse with the Yanks than he was with the A’s (6.25 FIP), and a late season audition for a playoff spot which featured the Yanks forcing him into some high-leverage spot went predictably awful. All told, Gaudin put a -0.8 fWAR in 48 IP just with the Bombers in 2010 (-1.1 overall). Yuck.

Chan Ho Park

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Park was a late addition in the offseason, signing a low-risk one-year, $1.2M contract after pitchers and catchers had already reported in February. His relief stint with the Phillies in 2009 was excellent (53-15 K/uIBB ratio and 0 HR in exactly 50 IP), good enough that even with normal age-related decline (he was 36 when they signed him, after all) and the AL-to-NL transition that there were still reasons to expect him to be a serviceable relief arm.

As it turned out, CHoP was anything but serviceable. He made three appearances in April, taking the loss in the first game of the season, before hitting the disabled list for a month with a bad hamstring. That bought him some more time. CHoP returned in mid-May and allowed at least one run in four straight outings and in five of six, earning himself a demotion to mop-up duty. After five scoreless outings in June, CHoP pretty much fell apart. He was designated for assignment after the Yanks acquired Kerry Wood at the trade deadline, finishing his Yankee career with a 5.60 ERA and more than one homer allowed for every 16 outs recorded.

It was a worthwhile gamble that completely blew up in the Yankees’ faces; Park was worth -0.2 fWAR in pinstripes. That the Pirates claimed him off waivers and saved New York the final $400,000 of his salary was nothing more than a minor miracle.

Dustin Moseley

The Yanks brought in the former Reds’ first round pick on a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training, and he pitched well enough in Triple-A (3.67 FIP in a dozen starts) that he forced the Yankees’ hand when his opt-out clause kicked in in late-June. Pitching in a mop-up role initially, Moseley moved into the rotation once Andy Pettitte‘s groin landed him on the disabled list.

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Moseley wasn’t terrible at first, giving the team two quality starts in his first three outings. It all kinda went downhill from there (6.41 ERA, .932 OPS against) as his inability to miss bats (13 BB, 11 K) manifested itself in his next four starts. Somehow the Yankees still managed to win three of those games, but Moseley found himself back in the bullpen with rookie Ivan Nova usurping him in the rotation.

In the end, the 28-year-old righty finished the season with with a 5.99 FIP and -0.4 fWAR in 65.1 innings for the big league team. He slightly redeemed himself with two scoreless innings in Game One of the ALCS, paving the way for the eighth inning comeback, but meh. Dustin’s effort was admirable, yet completely forgettable.

* * *

It’s unfair to toss Sergio Mitre into this mix because at least he managed to be replacement level this season (exactly 0.0 fWAR), but we have to mention him somewhere. He allowed just seven runs in his final 24.2 innings (2.55 ERA), so unlikely the Chad Ho Moseley monster he at least finished strong.

A trio of sub-replacement level long relievers (total damage: -1.4 fWAR, 148.2 IP, or 10.3% of the team’s total innings) didn’t sink the Yankees season by any means, but it sure was painful to watch.

Chuck Greenberg opens mouth, inserts foot

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Yankees have been and always will be an easy target. They’re the biggest and baddest, the Goliath to everyone’s David. That has to do with their payroll and popularity, and that’s fine. We’re all used to it by now, and in fact I think we take a certain level of enjoyment in seeing how outrageous Yankee-bashing gets. Hating on the Yankees is the easiest form of hate, it requires little thought and even less research. Broad generalizations do just fine.

It’s one thing to bash the team, the entity that is the Yanks, but it’s another thing to overstep that bound and start getting personal. That’s what Rangers’ owner Chuck Greenberg did early Monday while appearing on ESPN’s Radio “Ben and Skin Show.” Here’s the quote…

“I think our fans have been great. I think particularly in Game 3 of the World Series they just blew away anything I’ve seen in any venue during the postseason. I thought Yankee fans, frankly, were awful. They were either violent or apathetic, neither of which is good. So I thought Yankee fans were by far the worst of any I’ve seen in the postseason. I thought they were an embarrassment.”

Greenberg’s comments come on the heels of Kristin Lee’s comments about Yankee fans, which for all intents and purposes said the same thing. The people at Yankee Stadium are violent and obnoxious, dangerous and disinterested. Everything is bigger in Texas, including the insults to the backbone of the sport.

The Yankees were reportedly furious over Greenberg’s comments, and were preparing to respond once the World Series ended. “At this time, we are honoring the commissioner’s policy regarding respecting and not distracting from the World Series,” said team president Randy Levine, but they wouldn’t have to wait that long. Greenberg spoke to both Levine and Hal Steinbrenner later in the evening, apologizing for his comments. Here’s the half-assed apology statement…

“Earlier today, in the course of praising the extraordinary support and enthusiasm of Texas Rangers fans, I unfairly and inaccurately disparaged fans of the New York Yankees. Those remarks were inappropriate. Yankees fans are among the most passionate and supportive in all of baseball. I have spoken directly to Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine to apologize for my intemperate comments. I would like to express again how proud we are of our fans and how remarkably they have supported the Rangers throughout lean times and now during this magical season.”

That all well and good, but all he did was wear 15 pieces of flair. It’s the bare minimum, the least he could do. In fact, Greenberg didn’t even bother to issue the apology until Commissioner Bud Selig stepped in and gave the rookie owner a stern talking to. Hell, Greenberg barely even managed to apologize the people he actually insulted, us fans. I had to read it twice just to make sure it was actually in there.

Honestly, I couldn’t care less about being called violent or obnoxious or something like that, it’s the apathetic part that gets me. Maybe the corporate slime that inhabits the lower rungs of the New Stadium doesn’t care about this team, but we certainly do. Those of us here at RAB and countless other sites, those of us sitting out in the bleachers or in the grandstands, we care. You better believe we care.

The best and simplest course of action is to just roll our eyes and leave it at that. Take the high road. File it away in the Yankee-hate cabinet with countless other forgettable and unintelligent attacks on the team. But don’t think we’ll forget. Greenberg and his team now have a giant target on their backs, moreso than they did before the ALCS. So congrats Chuck Greenberg, you managed to look like a bigger ass than the people you insulted, and now you have all winter to think about it.

Romine picks up a pair of knocks

Baseball America has started posting their top ten prospects lists for all 30 teams, starting today with the Orioles. They’ll be posting the Yankees’ list on Friday, so get ready for that.

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (3-2 loss to Surprise)
Brandon Laird, LF: 0 for 4
Austin Romine, C: 2 for 4, 1 K – they stole three bases off him in three tries, including one by Graham Stoneburner’s brother

No pitchers. Lame.

Report: Yanks to speak with Gil Patterson about pitching coach vacancy

Via Mark Feinsand, Athletics pitching coordinator Gil Patterson has received permission from his team to speak with the Yankees about their vacant pitching coach position. Patterson has coached in the Yanks’ minor league system a few times, most recently 2005-2006, and according to B-Ref he was fired in 1984 for refusing to let Al Leiter pitch with a sore arm. Imagine that.

Anyway, the Yankees are obviously familiar with Patterson and he’s familiar with them, so it’s no surprise that he’s the first outside-the-organization name we heard about. Make sure you check out this 2006 profile by Tyler Kepner, that’s some great stuff.

Open Thread: World Series Game Five

Faceplant. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Okay, it’s time for the Rangers to put up or shut up. Their backs are up against the wall, Cliff Lee is on the bump, they’re playing at home … no excuses, they have to win this one. I know Tim Lincecum’s a tough matchup, but dammit do your stupid little antler and claw tricks and win. If the baseball season ends tonight, I will never forgive them. I’m not ready for baseball to go away. [/end rant]

Here’s tonight’s open thread. Aside from the World Series, you also have Monday Night Football (Texans @ Colts) and hockey (both Rangers and Devils). Talk about whatever, just be cool.

Gardner takes home top honors in Fielding Bible Awards

The voting for the 2010 edition of the Fielding Bible Awards are out, and Brett Gardner took home the top spot among all leftfielders. He was either first (six votes) or second (four) on all ten ballots, topping Carl Crawford by a not-small margin (96 to 86). It didn’t factor into voting, but Gardner did finish with the highest UZR (+22.3) and UZR/150 (+39.7) in baseball this season, regardless of position. Pretty sweet.

As for everyone else, Mark Teixeira finished fourth, Robbie Cano sixth, and Curtis Granderson eighth at their respective positions. All of the other regulars were no-shows in the top tens, unsurprisingly.