The aging catcher conundrum

Credit: AP Photo/Peter Morgan

In just over two months, Jorge Posada will celebrate his 39th birthday, and age is starting to wear down the Yanks’ erstwhile catcher. His team has played 54 games, but Jorge has appeared in just 28 of them, slowed by various leg and muscle injuries that tend to rob older players of playing time.

Now that’s he back from the DL, Joe Girardi and the Yankee braintrust have to figure out what role Posada will play this year. As his .323/.404/.594 line shows, he can still hit, and with Nick Johnson on the 60-day DL and probably a lost cause for the season, the team has a DH hole that needs filling. Is Jorge their man?

Initially, it’s very tempting to say yes. While Jorge probably won’t sustain a 176 OPS+ throughout the rest of the season, if he can duplicate his career line — .278 average with an .862 OPS — he’d be among the top designated hitters in the American League. Furthermore, the team would be able to keep him in the lineup on a near-daily basis, something they can’t seem to do while he’s catching, and he would still get to catch a game or two a week as other players rotate through the DH spot. As much as I’m not a supporter of the rotating DH, a Jorge Posada platoon where he is in that role for five out of seven games would do wonders for the Yanks’ offense.

But it’s not as simple as all that. For one, the Yanks are facing a reluctant Posada. As ESPN New York’s Rob Parker explored yesterday, Posada is not at all keen on relinquishing his position. He is, however, willing to sacrifice some of his time behind the plate because he recognizes that age isn’t on his side. Last year, Jorge appeared in 100 games as a catcher; this year, he has seen action behind the dish in 22 contests.

“I know that I can catch and I can be out there but a lot of circumstances have come and I’m going to have to be smart about it,” Posada said to ESPN. “If I’m in the lineup, I’m happy. I would like to catch here and there sometimes, but I understand what the future holds.”

Even with Posada’s desire to catch, it’s questionable whether he should. His defensive metrics are all on the negative side, and he has thrown out just 4 of 21 base runners. That 19 percent caught stealing rate is only two ticks higher than Victor Martinez’s figure. Never a great catcher, Posada isn’t nearly as nimble behind the dish as he was in his early 30s, and his legs probably can’t stand up to the rigors of four or five more months at catcher.

The Yankees, though, have few other choices. Right now, as Posada’s foot heals and the team figures out what they have in Jorge going forward, Francisco Cervelli will continue to man the backstop. On the surface, he’s doing an admirable job, hitting .294 with a .375 on-base percentage and 24 RBI. As a back-up catcher, that’s fantastic, but as Cervelli has seen more playing time, he’s become exposed both at the plate and behind it. Hitless for June, Cervelli is now 3 for his last 27 and 10 for his last 57. That’s a .175 batting average for those keeping score at home.

Defensively, Frankie is a better catcher than Jorge, but he’s struggled throwing out runners. Opponents have stolen 18 out of 20 with Cervelli catching, and although some of that blame lies with the Yanks’ pitchers, teams will continue to run until they’re caught. Cervelli’s game, in other words, is ripe for the pickin’, and that’s exactly what teams are doing.

So the Yankees are stuck. They could risk putting their soon-to-be 39-year-old offensive weapon behind the plate and playing him until he can go no further. Or they can press into service their 24-year-old stop-gap who is supposed to keep the position warm until Jesus Montero or Austin Romine are ready for the big leagues. As a problem to have, it’s certainly not a big one, but how the Yanks address it could impact their season well into October.

Yanks take care of business, bury Orioles

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

Over the course of 162 games, teams will lose games they’re supposed to win. The last place team in a division, at least a couple of times in a year, will beat the leader. It’s part of the game. These girls know it. Yesterday seemed like it had the potential to be one of those you can’t predict baseball moments. CC Sabathia owns the Orioles. He had held them to a .582 OPS in his career, his lowest mark among AL teams. He had a 2.52 ERA against them and was 11-1 in 16 starts. His team had won 13 of those games.

Yet CC hasn’t been himself lately. He has allowed five or more runs in three of his last four starts. His ERA has climbed to above 4.00, at 4.16, which was higher, coming into the game, than that of his opponent, Kevin Millwood. That’s just not right. Still, something’s been off with CC, and with that in mind it certainly seemed like a day where the Orioles, if they caught a few breaks, could steal a win. Unfortunately for them, the Yankees’ offense was just too strong.

Biggest Hit: Alex hits it out to right

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

While Alex Rodriguez has been excellent this year, he’s not quite the A-Rod we’ve known for the past six years. Most of it’s there. He’s hitting .297 with a .376 OBP. Where he has lacked to this point, what we’ve missed, is his power. Coming into yesterday’s game his ISO was just .195, 50 points lower than the mark he posted last year after his return from hip surgery. Not that anyone’s really complaining. Again, he’s hitting just fine, and he’s playing markedly better defense. And it’s not like he has no power.

The third inning started off well. With one out Mark Teixeira ripped a changeup to left, setting himself up in scoring position for A-Rod and Cano. Millwood had already allowed two in the first, and with the Orioles offense being the Orioles offense he really had to bear down there and get A-Rod somehow. He had a plan, it appeared, Everything was down in the zone. Fastball, splitter, slider. A-Rod took the first four and worked a 2-2 count. He fouled off the next two, both fastballs, the first outside and the second low and in. A splitter in the dirt later and the two squared off on a 3-2 count. Millwood came back with a splitter, but he left it belt high outside. A-Rod got his arms extended, which, if this were Mortal Kombat, would set up his fatality.

He hit the ball on a line, but with the close and low fence in right it was a sure home run. That put the Yanks on top 4-1, and they’d pick up another after a walk and pair of singles. Even with a mistake-prone Sabathia on the mound that was more than enough.

Biggest Pitches: The home runs

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

Through the first two innings CC Sabathia looked like his normal, invincible self. He was hitting his spots and his stuff was working. In any case, he plowed through the first six Orioles hitter with aplomb, using just 21 pitches to set them down in order. Adam Jones led off the second, and Sabathia started him with a fastball low and away for called strike one. On the next pitch he came inside with a fastball, but he let it catch too much of the plate. Jones hit it perfectly, sending it into the visitor’s bullpen for his team’s first run.

That wasn’t especially worrisome at the time. Even with Sabathia’s recent troubles, it was hard to get too worked up over one solo shot. Sure enough he went right back to work, retiring the next three hitters on just 10 pitches. He needed just nine to get through the fourth and would have been out of the fifth with 11 if he hadn’t made a poor throw to first. That cost him eight pitches, all fastballs, to backup catcher Craig Tatum. Nine pitches after that he was done with the sixth.

What followed was strange, mainly because of what had come before. He had thrown just 70 pitches through six innings, and if not for his own blunder it could have been as low as 62. Imagine that. Sixty-two pitches through six. Even at 70 he was in complete game mode. He did record the first out in the seventh, but it took him six pitches. Ty Wigginton singled next, but that was no big deal. Only the Orioles second hit of the game. Then came the mistake. Sabathia missed with two fastballs to Luke Scott. Again he went to the fastball, but this one was right down Broadway. Out it went, and the Orioles had put the game within three.

Things looked really down when he walked Garrett Atkins, but all became right after that. But he had thrown 23 pitches in the inning, and at 93 pitches and the game within three Girardi went to his setup-closer tandem, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera, to seal it. Though there was a slight hiccup in the ninth, the good guys won again.

As long as Curtis Granderson continues hitting, I will write about him

It was another multi-hit day for Curtis Granderson, including an RBI single in the third that not only put the Yankees up 5-1, but also set up first and third with one out. Since his return he is 10 for 24 with four doubles and a homer. He’s also playing, by the eye’s measure, excellent defense in center. This is the guy the Yankees traded for this winter, the veteran, the finished product that could step in and become a part of the Yankees’ lineup. He still doesn’t have a set spot — long-term he’s more of a No. 2 than a No. 7, but those are the breaks when Swisher is killing the ball.

In the future I’d like to see Granderson stealing a bit more. Clearly he’s taking it easy, but soon enough he’s going to feel 100 percent. With Francisco Cervelli and Brett Gardner batting behind him, attempting the base becomes a more viable option than if he has Teixeira and A-Rod behind him. If he and Gardner can get going on the base paths, the Yankees will have added yet another dimension to the starting lineup.

Picture of Gardner’s homer

Because the little dude has as many home runs this year as Jason Bay. (With a nod to Greg Fertel.)

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

Boring green line and box score

It feels like we’ve seen the same green line for the past three days. Can’t we change the channel?

This and more numbers at FanGraphs. Or you can try the more traditional box score.

Next Up

I can’t wait for tomorrow’s series preview. It’s the perplexingly good Blue Jays, with lefty Brett Cecil on the mound, against A.J. Burnett.

Trenton bullpen coughs it up late

Remember when Jon Weber hit .452-.452-.581 in Spring Training and people were saying he would have beaten out Marcus Thames for the final bench spot if he wasn’t a lefty hitter? Yeah, he got released today after hitting .258-.333-.325 in 47 games with Triple-A Scranton. Those Spring Training stats … they’ll get you every time.

Robert Pimpsner put together a preliminary roster (i.e. not official) for Short Season Staten Island, who start their season two weeks from tomorrow on the 18th. That seems a little early, but maybe it’s just me. Rookie level GCL Yanks start their season a few days later on the 21st. Remember, both of those teams will feature lots of 2010 draftees.

Triple-A Scranton (11-3 loss to Durham)
Reegie Corona, 2B & Reid Gorecki, DH: both 2 for 4, 1 R – Gorecki tripled & drove in a run
Eduardo Nunez, SS, David Winfree, RF & Greg Golson, CF: all 1 for 4 – Nunez scored a run & drove one in … Winfree drove in a run
Juan Miranda: 0 for 3, 2 K – was lifted late in the game … not sure why, but he could have just been catching a breather after being sent down late yesterday
Chad Huffman, LF: 0 for 4, 2 K – threw a runner out at second
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K
Matt Cusick, 3B: 0 for 3, 1 K
Tim Redding: 4.1 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 7-2 GB/FB – 55 of 85 pitches were strikes (64.7%) … look at it this way, those are 4.1 IP that won’t overly tax the arm of someone with an actual future with the organization
Jason Hirsh: 1.2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 18 of 34 pitches were strikes (52.9%)
Mark Melancon: 2.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 3-1 GB/FB – 32 of his 49 pitches were strikes (65.3%) … but a rough go of it for him of late, that’s 34 baserunners & nine runs allowed in his last 16.1 IP
The Ghost of Kei Igawa: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – five of his eight pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Casual fashion with the Yankees

We’ll get to wrapping up the Yanks’ 6-3 afternoon victory over Baltimore later tonight. For what it’s worth, the last-place Orioles are probably going to fire manager Dave Trembley. I’m sure that won’t be anything close to the cure for what ails them.

For tonight’s open thread, we have baseball fashion. Yesterday, six members of the Yankees unveiled t-shirts and jerseys they designed as part of MLB’s new Players Choice Signature Series line of apparel. Joba Chamberlain, Curtis Granderson, Andy Pettitte, C.C. Sabathia, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira all designed shirts, jersey and hats that reflect their personality and heritage. Joba’s, for instance, includes an eagle feather based on his Native American background. “It was my family, my heritage, what I stood for,” Chamberlain said. “It was an honor to get asked to do it.”

The shirts, now on sale at Yankee Clubhouse Stores, Modell’s and at the dot com’s shop, are pretty snazzy. My favorite is the one above with Curtis Granderson as the DJ. A few more from Sabathia and Pettitte — featuring his trademark stare interlaced into the 46 on his back — are below. Click on any of the images to enlarge, and check out Tim Britton’s coverage for more info about the designs. Thanks also to Maury Brown for the images.

2010 Draft: BA Editor’s Mock Draft

Three of Baseball America’s head honchos sat down to hammer out a first round mock draft, alternating every three picks. Jim Callis represented the Yankees at #32 overall, and has them selecting Texas high school righty Zach Lee. I told you everything you need to know about Lee last week, and he’d make a fantastic selection at that spot. Keith Law heard from two sources independently that Lee is expected to sign, though it’s going to take major bucks ($3M has been rumored) to keep him away from LSU as one of the top quarterback recruits in the country. Good thing the Yanks can afford it.

Some of the other players the Yankees have been linked to – Tyrell Jenkins, Anthony Ranaudo, Asher Wojciechowski – were all off the board by the time the 32nd pick came around.

(Don’t forget to subscribe to our draft only RSS feed!)

Royals claim Kanekoa Texeira

Via MLBTR, the Royals have claimed righty reliever Kanekoa Texeira off waivers from the Mariners, so the Yankees won’t have a chance to get back their Rule 5 pick just yet. The Rule 5 rules transfer over to Kansas City now, so they have to keep him on their 25-man roster all season or put him on waivers and offer him back to the Yanks. I was hopeful that they’d be able to bring him back earlier this week, and while it’s still possible, it’s just unlikely given how desirable decent relievers making the league minimum are. Oh well.