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When the Yankees finally called up Jesus Montero last week, it was after seasons of hype and speculation. He has been involved in multiple trade rumors over the past two seasons, but the Yankees have held on to him, causing Yankee fans (like myself) to expect a great player. His ability to play the catcher position at the big league level has been questioned, but there is never been any doubt about this: the kid can hit.
Montero’s name has been involved in just about every major trade the Yankees have been rumored to be involved in over the past 2 season. He was asked for in trades for both Jarrod Washburn and Scott Downs, both of which the Yankees respectfully declined (and then laughed hysterically about afterwards).
He has been offered for Joakim Soria, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. The Royals declined and the Blue Jays wanted Hughes or Chamberlain with Montero, which made the Yankees say no. He was all but traded to the Mariners for Cliff Lee last year, but then the Rangers swooped in to steal Lee away. If he had ended up in Seattle, there is no doubt the Yankees would have reached the World Series last year, and maybe had the best lefty 1-2 punch ever, but it was Montero who remained.
Most recently, he was rumored to be involved in a trade for Ubaldo Jimenez. The Rockies wanted both Montero and pitching prospect Dellin Betances (or Ivan Nova), but the Yankees would only include both of them if it was for a “sure thing,” which Jimenez was not considered to be.
Through all of this, he is still a Yankee, and one must wonder what the Yankees’ plan is now.
Since being called up, Montero has played in three games, each of which he was the DH. He picked up his first career hit on Saturday, and is 3 for 10 with a run scored in his first 10 at bats. The .300 batting average doesn’t really mean anything this early, but there wasn’t really much doubt he could hit (he has been called the best Yankee offensive prospect since Derek Jeter). It is his defense that is in question.
With Jorge Posada all but finished, the Yankees do need a franchise catcher to take his place. Montero is only 21, and he can hit lights-out, but honestly, if he could catch, he would have been called up much sooner. The Yankees picked up Russell Martin in the offseason, and he has played pretty well this year, making the All-Star team for the third time in his career (and he’s only 28). Montero played catcher (or was the DH) in every minor league game he has played in since being signed in 2006. If there was hope for him being a major league caliber catcher, we wouldn’t still be hearing the same questions about his catching inabilities.
It is unfortunate, but I just don’t think Montero is the next catcher for the New York Yankees. He will impress at DH, and may even hold that spot in the lineup down next year, but I just don’t think the Yankees are in a position to wait and see if he can catch long term, especially when it seems like he can’t. Catching isn’t just about throwing out runners and preventing passed balls; it’s also about calling the game and guiding the pitcher through it. Any good athlete can get better at catching the ball and throwing, it’s more about managing the game, which isn’t something just anyone can do.
If Jesus Montero can’t catch for the Yankees, he certainly can’t play any other position. 1st and 3rd are taken, and those are about the only positions a catcher can switch too. I also doubt he would be a DH his whole career, as that just doesn’t happen very often. So what do they do?
First, let him prove he can hit at the big league level (he will).
Then trade him.
For Felix Hernandez.
It is pretty much the general consensus that Hernandez will be traded from Seattle eventually. The Mariners are terrible, and they have to pay King Felix over $18 million in each of the next 3 seasons, so it is expected the Mariners will not be able to afford the 25-year-old right hander for much longer (or at least they won’t want to). The Yankees will certainly be all over that deal when it finally does happen, and Montero will be there every step of the way.
The Yankees have held on to Montero for all this time, and I think this is why. Hernandez is either much better or much younger than every pitcher Montero was rumored with before, and I think using Montero (and whomever else goes with him) for this reason will prove to be worth it. The Red Sox were in a similar situation in late 2005, when they traded a very young Hanley Ramirez (among others) for Josh Beckett. The Red Sox shortstop situation has been abysmal ever since, but I think the 2007 World Series title and a 5-1 playoff record would be considered worth it.
Montero may be a Hall of Fame hitter one day, but I think it will be as a first basemen for a different franchise. He doesn’t seem to be the Yankees answer for their catching questions (though I would love to be wrong on that one), and he will unfortunately be rumored as a part of every trade the Yankees are involved in, until he is finally sent away.