Here we stand just one week from the start of spring training, the holy day for baseball fans when pitchers and catchers report to camp, and the New York Yankees still have no viable resolution for the latter.
After losing free agent catcher Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a move that came from the bizzaro hot stove (Seinfeld fans rejoice!), GM Brian Cashman and Yankees’ brass countered with no move of their own. They have been adamant that the two-year, $20 million contract Martin received was not within their means, and the catcher position will be filled in-house.
That leaves Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, and Austin Romine to battle for the title of Least Mediocre.
Stewart was the backup last year and performed adequately as such. Really, his .241 average was a pleasant surprise and more than you can assume from a second string catcher. Yankee fans are familiar with Cervelli. His energy and enthusiasm are unquestioned; he is an all-in type of player and will be fired up for this opportunity. However, he struggles throwing out base runners and sometimes seems like he can’t bat a ball out of the infield. Romine is highly regarded as a prospect, but has been troubled with a back problem and is completely unproven.
A healthy competition? For the Kansas City Royals, maybe.
Not only will Russell Martin’s camaraderie with his battery mates be tough to replace. So will his power. He hit 21 home runs in 2012 despite batting .211, and with New York’s growing dependency on the long ball the hole grows only larger.
If he is named the starter, Chris Stewart’s scouting report will grow and opposing pitchers will make that .241 average in a limited role shrink down to size.
Francisco Cervelli is 26 but no newcomer. He has had some bright spots but suits this team best as a back up.
The best-case scenario here is for Austin Romine to have a dynamite spring training and blow manager Joe Girardi away. That however, is unlikely. Romine played in just 31 minor league games last year and will likely begin the year at triple A.
We all know about the Yankees determination to get below the luxury tax line by next season. Losing Russell Martin is something fans will have to come to terms with. But to not even bring in a proven catcher in this league, a veteran like Kelly Shoppach, is what dumbfounds New Yorkers.
The $189 million soft salary cap is looming next season. Letting Martin walk for $10 million per season reaffirms the level of seriousness Hal and the gang are taking. The Boss is gone now and the blood thirst to win in the Bronx appears to be waning.
In a new age of parity in Major League Baseball, the Yankees are prepared to open 2013 among the teams weakest at the catching position.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Remember Jesus Montero?