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After CC Sabathia’s performance Friday night and Bartolo Colon’s Saturday afternoon, talking about the Yankees’ pitching rotation is too anxiety-provoking for me. Instead, let’s look at the other half of the battery. In the last few weeks, the Bombers have used five different catchers behind the plate: Russell Martin, Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine, Jesus Montero and Jorge Posada.
One of them is a veteran who had not put on his gear all season, two others are rookies who were making their major league debuts, and only three will likely make the postseason roster. Who are the Yankees’ options at catcher for the playoffs?
Known for: Being a two-time All-Star; hitting 17 HR and 61 RBI this season, thus exceeding expectations (he hasn’t shown this much offensive power since 2008); being Canadian
Started the season: As the Yankees’ starting catcher
Ends the season: As the Yankees’ starting catcher
Shining moment of 2011: In my opinion, Martin’s ability to lead the Yankees’ diverse rotation through each game is what has made him so valuable this season. Martin told Kim Jones that in his opinion, his best 2011 moment was going 5-5 with 6 RBI, 2 HR and a grand slam in the Yankees’ 22-6 victory over the Oakland Athletics on August 25th.
Chances he’ll be on the postseason roster: Martin’s a sure thing, barring any unforeseen circumstances. Russ gave us a scare a few weeks ago after he took a foul ball off his thumb on September 10th in Anaheim. He returned to the lineup on September 13th, banged up but ready to play.
Known for: Backing up Yankees’ catchers since 2009; his ability to catch A.J. Burnett; wearing an oversized batting helmet
Started the season: As the Yankees’ backup catcher
Ends the season: On the disabled list with a concussion from a plate collision on September 8th
Shining moment of 2011: After hitting a solo homer off the Red Sox’ John Lackey (his third HR of the year), Cervelli clapped his hands as he stepped on home plate on August 30th. This prompted Lackey to drill Cervelli in the back two innings later, throwing some fuel on the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. More importantly, the clap was significant because it epitomized Cervelli’s positive attitude and enthusiasm, which is contagious in the clubhouse (postgame, the catcher said simply, “That’s Cervelli,” when asked about the clap). Now that the Cisco Kid has gone long four times this season (he hit one more on September 6th), so maybe John Sterling will finally adopt my brilliant Cervelli home run call: Cervin’ it up!
Chances he’ll be on the postseason roster: Slim to moderate. According to Joe Girardi, Cervelli could be out of commission for the remainder of 2011 considering the dangerous and unpredictable nature of concussions. He is scheduled to see a neurologist next week.
Known for: His defensive skills; being a hot trade commodity who the Yankees ultimately held onto
Started the season: As a catcher for the Double-A Trenton Thunder
Ends the season: As the Yankees’ backup catcher
Shining moment of 2011: When the Yankees’s roster expanded on September 1st, Romine was promoted to Double-A to replace Montero, where he finished his season…or so he thought. After Martin hurt his thumb, the Yankees quickly decided to call upon Romine, who Baseball America named the No. 1 Defensive Catcher in the Yankees organization. Romine traveled across the country on the morning September 11th to meet the team in Anaheim. They were in the midst of a three-game set against Romine’s brother’s team, the Angels. Austin made his major league debut on the day he arrived on the west coast, entering the game as a defensive replacement. After the last out, the Romine brothers hugged each other and then their parents, family and friends in the stands. His mom and dad, a former major-leaguer himself, were both teary (so was Michael Kay). Romine started at catcher and collected his first hit the following day, but the unique and emotional story of his debut remains the shining moment of his 2011 season.
Chances he’ll be on the postseason roster: Romine’s chances are entirely dependent on Cervelli’s status. If Cervelli remained incapacitated, Romine will likely be the backup catcher.
Known for: His offensive skills; being a hot trade commodity who the Yankees ultimately held onto
Started the season: As a designated hitter/catcher for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees
Ends the season: As a Yankees’ designated hitter
Shining moment of 2011: Montero has been considered a top MLB prospect for the past several years. On September 5th, he lived up to the hype when he hit two home runs against the Baltimore Orioles. Both were go-ahead HRs; one was opposite field. The Yankees won the game by one.
Chances he’ll be on the postseason roster: Strong. Montero does not have the defensive skills to be a backup catcher, but his hitting has likely propelled him into the DH spot. Since his major league debut on September 1st, he is hitting .286 with 10 hits and 3 home runs.
Known for: Being a member of the core four; being an essential part of four Yankees’ World Series victories; being a five-time All-Star; being a future Hall of Famer
Started the season: As the Yankees’ designated hitter
Ends the season: As a Yankees’ benchwarmer/pinch hitter. In the Yankees game against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 16th, Jorge was the DH and went 0-3.
Shining moment of 2011: When Martin was injured a few weeks ago, Girardi opted to put Posada behind the plate to avoid losing his DH, Montero. Posada’s return to glory against the Angels on September 1oth was undoubtedly his shining moment of 2011, even though the Yankees lost the game 6-0. It trumps his angry outburst when he learned he would be batting ninth against Boston, his grand slam and 6 RBI on August 13th, and when he played 2nd base for an inning against the Athletics a few weeks ago.
Chances he’ll be on the postseason roster: Slim. Jorge’s batting average is .238 this season, his lowest average ever. He is hitting just .100 against left-handed pitchers. I can’t imagine that Jorge will make the postseason roster; he’s not the best candidate for DH or for backup catcher. But I also can’t imagine a Yankees postseason roster without him. Cutting him would hurt Yankee morale, but there’s no room on a 25-man roster for guy who’s primary role is morale booster.
Martin is a sure thing; let’s get that out of the way. If he is healthy and the Yankees make the playoffs, he will start every game.
Cervelli is the Yankees’ best backup catcher; he has the most experience with the rotation and he has played postseason ball. If his concussion symptoms subside, he will be on the roster. However, if Joe Girardi is pessimistic, then I am too. Assuming he remains on the disabled list, Romine is the only one who could fill the backup position.
Posada has only caught once (the Sept. 10th game), since last October and Montero’s defense is not dependable. Romine has played behind the plate in the minor leagues all season, and has held his own in the major leagues thus far. Especially in the playoffs, defensive skills—Romine’s strength—are more important than offensive production for a backup catcher.
With Romine as the backup catcher, that leaves Montero and Posada to fill the designated hitter spot. Being cut from the postseason roster is not the way that a Yankees legend should end his career. It’s a heartbreaking prospect for any Yankees fan, and surely more so for Posada himself. Posada’s most significant advantage is that he has a great deal of postseason experience; Montero has been in the majors for less than a month. That said, it would be difficult for Girardi to justify choosing Posada over Montero. Lately, Montero has been more consistent offensively; he has a higher batting average and on-base percentage. Montero is also more able-bodied than Posada, in case Girardi needs a third-string catcher. The young player may not be the sentimental choice, but he is the stronger choice.
Throughout August and September, Girardi strategically avoided trimming his pitching rotation down to five. If he is similarly avoidant when it comes to the catchers, will we see a five-man catching rotation come October?