A better third catcher solution

One of the biggest question marks coming into the season for the Yankees is the health of stalwart catcher Jorge Posada. While all reports seem to indicate that Posada’s rehab from major shoulder surgery is going swimmingly, you can never be too sure when it comes to 37 year old catchers. Jose Molina and Chad Moeller played their hearts out in Posada’s place last year, but it’s clear neither player represents an every day catching option. The Yanks have already brought Kevin Cash aboard on a minor league to fill that emergency third catcher role, but they can do better than that. Specifically, we’re looking at Javier Valentin.

Not to be confused with John or Jose, Javy Valentin has spent the last five years of his career a Reds uniform, serving primarily as a backup catcher/pinch hitter. Unlike most backup backstops, however, Valentin has demonstrated that he’s not completely useless with the stick. Over the past four season he’s hit .272-.334-.442, averaging a .333 wOBP and a 97 OPS+ while providing 4.9 wins over a replacement player. For comparisons sake, that batting line is on par with what Bengie Molina did for the Giants this past year (.292-.322-.445).

As an added bonus Valentin’s a switch hitter, though he’s proven to be more dangerous from the left side of the plate. That actually works out perfectly, because in a nightmare scenario where Jorge Posada again misses significant time, Valentin can play primarily against righties (.258-.313-.424-.737) while Molina takes on the lefties (.263-.304-.400-.704). Obviously we aren’t talking about great production from that platoon, but it would represent a significant upgrade from the .230-.290-.335-.625 line Yankees’ catchers produced in 2008.

An offense first catcher, Valentin is no great shakes defensively. His best defensive attribute is his throwing arm, which has allowed him to gun down 41.9% of attempted base stealers in his career (21 of 25 in 2004!), but even that has slipped lately (25.5% over the last three seasons). There’s also some durability concerns, as Valentin has never caught more than 553.2 innings in a single season, and has averaged just 340 innings caught over the last three years. He could easily hit that “overexposed in extended playing time” wall that Jose Molina ran into last year.

Valentin’s earned $3.725M over the last three years ($1.325M last year), but in this market he’s not getting anything more than a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. He could compete with Cash in Spring Training for that third catcher role, with the winner heading to Triple-A while the loser hits the unemployment line (minor league deals aren’t guaranteed). I’d prefer to see the Yanks go this route before having to swing another midseason deal for a Pudge-type. What about you?