Jobu finally puts in his two cents about the Yankees’ bleak catching picture.
Sometimes teams have to sacrifice. Sometimes, they need to bite the bullet and put a lesser player on the field, and in the lineup, because they can’t afford to pay superstars to play every position. As a fan, sometimes you have to just take that and move on. It’s really hard to do that with the Yankees. I know that it makes business sense to avoid big contracts. I know that the Yankees need to ride out the big contracts that they do have (Alex Rodríguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, etc) while getting younger, cheaper and less injury-prone players. Logically, it all makes sense. Unfortunately, logic sucks. Because of logic, tempered spending and the departure of Russell Martin (pictured above) for Pittsburgh, the Yankees are faced with a terrible situation at catcher this year. Here’s a little breakdown of the situation, and what I think the best course of action is for them.
Sadly, I think Stewart might be the favorite to land the most regular playing time (I hesitate to call him a starter). Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed having Stewart as the backup catcher during the 2012 season. He plays very solid defense (although he did go through a bit of an annoying stretch last season and his numbers dipped below his career averages) and he actually always seemed to come through in some way when he got important at bats. In reality, his numbers weren’t that impressive. He hit .241/.292/.319 with 1 HR and 13 RBI in his 141 at bats. When a guy hits that way in 141 at bats, it’s a lot more tolerable than in 400 or 500 at bats. That’s actually exactly what a perfect backup catcher does. That’s why he’s on the team. For his defense. As long as he doesn’t kill the team on offense, he’s fine.
This becomes the problem when you force a backup catcher into every day duty. At some point, the bat is going to be exposed and kill your team. Remember the year Jorge Posada got hurt and the Yankees had to mostly go with José Molina behind the dish? Again, I’m not knocking the guy, but he shouldn’t be playing every day either (sorry Rays). I worry that, if he is made the starter, Stewart’s full-time weaknesses will overcome his part-time strengths. For this reason, I am not looking forward to having “Stewey” in there more than once a week.
This is far and away the most popular choice to get the nod, and I don’t mean just the fans. The players seem to love this guy. He energizes the team with his great attitude and really has become a clutch player for the Yankees during his few years with the club. The only problem is that he’s just not good enough at anything to justify playing him every day. The fans love him too. We were all shocked last spring when, practically on the last day of spring training, they traded for Stewart and announced Frankie would be sent to AAA to “provide depth” there.
Unfortunately, friendliness, energy and clubhouse pet status only get you so far in sports. For the Yankees to have done what they did last spring, knowing that Frankie had been the backup catcher for the better part of two seasons, should tell you about what they think of his skill set behind the plate and with the bat. Although I always liked Frankie for his clutch play, his bat isn’t strong enough to carry his glove, plain and simple. He’s a .271/.339/.353 hitter with 5 homers and 71 RBI in 490 career at bats. I’m actually pretty impressed by the RBI total. It speaks to his ability to get big hits. What I don’t like is the 20 career errors, 5 passed balls and only 20% ability to throw out potential base stealers. That dog won’t hunt at the major league level, folks.
Now, if Frankie had really responded to his demotion and improved all of his skills, that would be one thing. Instead, he moped for a while, which led to a terrible start at the plate. He ended up at .246/.341/.316 with 2 homers and 39 RBI in 354 ABs. He only made five errors and improved to 30% throwing runners out, but his 15 passed balls are definitely an eyesore.
For me, Romine is the most intriguing option. He’s a virtual unknown, and he’s probably not ready to handle full-time major league catching duties at all, but he’s interesting. We first met Austin as a September callup in 2011, when he got into 9 games and hit .158/.200/.158 in just 19 at bats. We can’t judge him on that at all, but I was excited for him to go to AAA in 2012 and take the next step towards possibly being the next Yankees catcher (especially after the Montero trade). Unfortunately, his year never really got out of the starting blocks. A back injury kept him sidelined for most of the year, and he only got into 31 games the entire year. Only 17 of those games were in AAA. It was a crucial year for his development, and he missed it all.
The scouting book on him is pretty good. He’s believed to be able to hold his own at the plater and has shown the promise of future power to come as well. In the minors, he’s a .278/.333/.414 hitter, but it’s all kind of meaningless because he’s only got 86 at bats above AA. His bat is definitely not ready for the majors. However, many people think his glove is. He is believed to possess a plus arm (in both strength and accuracy) and the skill set to be a very good plate protector as well. If he pans out, he’ll be an above average defender with a solid bat, and you can’t ask for much more than that.
The injury in 2012 hurt him the most in the area of learning to call a game and be the field general a catcher needs to be. You can’t teach a guy how to work with different pitchers, or how to have good instincts for pitch calling. All that stuff is earned and mastered through experience. That year off might be the only thing that holds him back from locking down the starting job this year.
Who Should It Be?
If I had my druthers, as they say, I think my choice would be Romine. Are you surprised? I kind of was too. No matter who is behind the dish this year, the team is going to suffer. I know Russell Martin hit .211 last year, but he played excellent defense and had some clutch hits and home runs sprinkled throughout the season too. If Martin had managed to hit .250 in 2012, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. They would have re-signed him. They tried to re-sign him before the season even started.
Stewart doesn’t have the bat to play every day. Cervelli could squeeze by with his bat, but he doesn’t have the glove to be in the lineup every day either. Romine probably isn’t ready at all, but has the potential to surprise some people. Also, if experience is what he lacks, there’s no better place to get it than in the Bronx. Many young guys can’t handle that kind of pressure, but if the Yankees feel that he can, they should throw him in the pool and see if he can swim. I’d rather watch a 23 year old with great potential struggle in the field and at the plate than a couple of guys whose ceilings have already been reached.
Oh, and I’d take Cervelli as my backup, because we love him.
Featured image courtesy of: New York Post
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