Yankees Shore Up Rotation, but Huge Hole Remains at Catcher

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Yankees Shore Up Rotation, but Huge Hole Remains at Catcher
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Enter Sandman 2013: Mariano Rivera is back, and so is Andy Pettitte

The New York Yankees look to replicate the pitching success they enjoyed down the stretch and in the playoffs this past season.

They agreed to bring both starter Andy Pettitte and the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, back to the team for the 2013 MLB season.

Pettitte, who made his season debut on Mother's Day, was limited to just 12 starts thanks to an ankle fracture. He pitched very well in his return to the majors after retirement in 2011, pitching to a 2.87 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and a 146 ERA+. He also pitched well in the playoffs, allowing just five runs in 13.2 innings.

Rivera pitched just nine games this season, out since May due to a freak accident during batting practice, tearing his ACL. However, he immediately decided that he would not retire and would work his way back. 

Both moves, along with Hiroki Kuroda returning last week, make the Yankees pitching staff again a threat when healthy. The pitching staff showed what it was capable of in this past postseason and hope to replicate this success for the entire 2013 baseball year

The offense, on the other hand, is still a work in progress, and now has suffered a setback.

Russell Martin, the replacement to longtime Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, left the Bronx for the Pittsburgh Pirates, signing a two-year deal worth $19 million. Martin spent the past two seasons with the Yankees, hitting .224 over a 258 game stretch. 

Despite the poor numbers, this a huge loss for the Yankees, as they also lose one of the best defensive backstops in the game. They must make a decision and perhaps some reactionary moves to solve this situation. 

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The Yankees now have to fill a hole at catcher with Russell Martin gone

The Bronx Bombers are now without a starting catcher, with the depth of catchers on the roster currently as follows:

Chris Stewart: .241/.292/.319/.611 in 2012 with the Yankees

Francisco Cervelli: .246/.341/.316/.657 in 99 games at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes Barre

Austin Romine: Injuries cut him to just 31 games and 120 plate appearances

None of these players are suitable options to start, and only passable options as backups. The Yankees cannot afford to have this kind of depth on Opening Day. Martin only got a two-year deal, as did former Braves backup David Ross with the Boston Red Sox.

So, the best options that remain are former Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim and Texas Ranger Mike Napoli and longtime Chicago White Sox backstop AJ Pierzynski

Napoli is the cream of the free agent catcher crop, coming off five straight seasons with over 20 home runs. He had his best season in 2011, hitting 30 bombs and putting up a line of .320/.414/.631/1.046. He was an All-Star for the first time this past season.

Pierzynski had the best season of his 15-year career, setting new career highs in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+. He also took home his first Silver Slugger award. 

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Could AJ Pierzynski or Mike Napoli be headed for the Bronx?

However, there are problems coming if the Yankees bring either in. Napoli is a very poor defensive catcher, and you can't put him at first base at all as long as Mark Teixeira is in the lineup. He can still double as a regular in the Yankees' rotating DH system. But he also is looking for a pretty big deal.

Pierzynski is turning 36 next month, and is a huge risk given his age and the money he may want based on his contract year. Not exactly a guy the Yankees may want based on their plans for the future. 

However, it seems the Yankees may have to bite the bullet. In all honesty, nobody thinks either Napoli or Pierzynski are plans for the long-term future. Heck, neither is Russell Martin.

This has all been about covering the gap between the Jorge Posada era of Yankee catching history to his eventual heir. Jesus Montero is gone, and Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy are still at least a year away from being able to step in as the starting backstop for the next several years.

The Yankees are an aging team with not too many prospects coming very soon. The organization also plans on spending even less than they have for so many years starting in the 2014 season.

This is obviously a reaction to the declines and long-term deals of Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia. The Yankees do not want anymore of those contracts on their payroll in the long-term.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
The Yankees need a short-term catcher to bridge the gap to someone like Gary Sanchez

However, the Yankees also have plenty of money to spend, with the departures of Martin, closer Rafael Soriano, and outfielder Nick Swisher, a grand total of almost $30 million between the three. 

That is the reason why not bringing back Russell Martin makes so little sense. He only got two years from Pittsburgh, and will only paid an average of $8.5 million, which is the same amount he earned this season. 

So now, the Yankees are forced to fill their spot at catcher with a high-priced free agent (Napoli, Pierzynski) or go with minor league talent (Stewart, Cervelli) in order to eventually bring up one of the three prospects they have still in their farm system.

The Yankees are in this dilemma because of themselves. They have time, but they cannot dawdle, because the remaining options could run out at any time. 

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