After two seasons, the New York Yankees decided not to re-sign starting catcher Russell Martin during the offseason, only a year after Martin rejected a three-year, $20 million extension. Martin would get even less money from the Pittsburgh Pirates—two years, $17 million.
So after this winter, the Yankees catching situation has looked dire. They chose not to go after other free-agent catchers like A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross, opting to pick from in-house competition.
During Spring Training, the battle for the starting catching job started between Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart and some long shots like Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy.
Cervelli was a backup for Jorge Posada and Martin from 2010 to 2011 but spent almost all of 2012 in Triple-A, giving way to Chris Stewart, who came over in a trade with the San Francisco Giants
In the end, the battle turned into a catcher-by-committee sort of thing, with Cervelli and Stewart beginning the year by sharing the job. Cervelli caught CC Sabathia on Opening Day, while Stewart caught Hiroki Kuroda until he got hurt and caught Ivan Nova on Friday.
On Sunday, Cervelli ripped an RBI double off former AL MVP Justin Verlander and caught seven shut-out innings from CC Sabathia. He later added another RBI, as the Yankees salvaged the series in Detroit by a score of 7-0.
It seems that they will share the job for the first month or so to see who is performing better, but so far, Cervelli is winning. Thus far, Cervelli is hitting .308/.438/.615/1.053 through five games played. He has five RBIs and a home run. He has also played some stellar defense, which isn't exactly his calling card:
Another redeeming quality for Cervelli is his ability to hit in the clutch. The Yankees' Kryptonite has been hitting with runners in scoring position, but Cervelli is a career .325 hitter in 151 ABs. With two outs, that average increases to .391 in 69 at-bats.
Not bad, not bad at all. You know what his predecessor Martin's numbers were in those situations last year? .223 and .167.
Meanwhile, Stewart hasn't done much. He is one-for-six in two starts. His defense—his calling card has been pretty abysmal.
Stewart doesn't exactly have much room for error, because if he keeps playing poorly and Cervelli keeps playing well, this catching competition could be over quick.
What helps Cervelli if he does come out on top over Stewart is the limited challenge of surpassing Martin's .224 average and .317 OBP with the Yankees. Plus, Gary Sanchez is a few years away, so Cervelli could stick to the starting catching job for the Yankees for some time.