For the Yankees to get value from their catchers this year, Francisco Cervelli better be one of the best defensive catchers in the American League.
It was reported two days ago that Russell Martin actually wanted back in pinstripes for the 2013 season. Wow! The catching situation that many Yankees fans have been complaining about for 2013 shouldn't have been, so the story goes.
Yet, if you're looking for the reasons why the Yankees let Martin go, a quick look at the numbers and a reflection back on the Yankees' suddenly frugal ways are all you need. The Yankees have made it clear for some time now that money matters. They're hoping to get under that magic $189 million number to avoid the luxury tax next season.
But money is hardly the only issue with why the Yankees didn't re-sign Martin.
There was a substantial decline in Martin's defensive performance from his first year to his second year with the Bombers. To some of the more statistically savvy, this is hardly breaking news. Yet, in recent days, it seems as if a percentage of the fanbase is longing for Martin like he was Jorge Posada in his prime.
If you believe in the WAR stat like it's a holy book, then it's evident that Martin's first year with the Yankees was a very good one defensively and a pretty decent year offensively. 2012 was a better offensive year for Martin, according to offensive WAR.
However, it was by far his worst defensive season in the majors (if you're relying on defensive WAR) and a considerable drop-off from where his defensive production had been.
You'll see where Martin's defensive WAR ranks among the other catchers. It did seem at times last season that his defense did regress, watching how he did allow a lot of steals and a fair amount of passed balls. The numbers prove that.
Will the Yankees make up the lost value of Martin by Cervelli and Stewart's defense?
Like I said, the decline in defensive performance last season was real. A fluke or a trend? I tend to believe he's trending downward as a defensive catcher at this point. We'll see this year. But again, remember the whole $189 million thing and Hal Steinbrenner's obsession with avoiding the tax.
The decline in defensive performance is also why it appears more obvious that the Yankees didn't pursue AJ Pierzynski. His defensive numbers last season were similarly weak. Apparently, the Bombers also could have gotten him for only one year.
I tend to believe that what they should have done (or still should do) was sign a guy like Pierzynski while carrying Francisco Cervelli or Chris Stewart and subbing out Pierzynski for defense when need be and still spelling him to defray the difference in lost value in defense.
My gut feeling is they'll end up releasing Stewart or maybe demoting Cervelli at some point and trading for a better offensive catcher if both Cervelli and Stewart don't provide enough with the bat. Taking their track records into account, you can practically count on that.
Some people live and die now by the WAR statistic. It's a really great way to measure value, but it doesn't eliminate the value of the simple eye test and having advanced scouts break down and evaluate baseball players.
For example, it seemed last season that Martin tried to become much more of a slugger than he previously had been. And you don't need WAR to prove that. Martin swung for the fences an awful lot in 2012. Hey, nothing wrong with that!
The results bear out that approach. His home runs marginally increased and his strikeouts went up. Contract year? Surely. Even in seasons with way more plate appearances, he had never previously eclipsed the 90 strikeout mark.
Count me as one who really could care less that Martin is not on the team this year. That's not to diminish his value as a player, and it's not me deluding myself into believing Chris Stewart or Francisco Cervelli will be better hitters. They almost certainly won't be.
But there's strong reason to believe that with defensive-minded catchers like Cervelli and Stewart, the Yankees should make up a decent amount of the difference in defensive value and hope that carries enough of the day. They're already saving a substantial amount of money.