New York Yankees backup catcher Jose Molina has been on the disabled list since May 8 with a strained left quadriceps. This is a significant injury for any player, let along a catcher. When he likely returns this upcoming week against Minnesota, Molina will have missed two months.
In addition, starting catcher Jorge Posada was placed on the disabled list a few days earlier on May 5 with a strained left hamstring and he missed 24 days. Legs injuries are severely detrimental to a catcher, both in his time away and quality of play, especially with players at the advanced baseball ages of Posada (37) and Molina (34).
That is why it is important for the Yankees to keep reserve catcher Francisco Cervelli on the major league roster even after Molina returns. Most people will want to send Cervelli down for regular play at the Triple A level, but he can provide the big club an even more vital role by staying on the Bronx.
Before Molina and Posada went down with their injuries, Molina was the starting catcher in four of the prior ten games. In three of those starts, Hideki Matsui was the DH, while Posada was the DH in the fourth Molina start. In the three games Matsui was the DH, Posada pinch hit late in the game.
Both Molina and Posada both played in all four of those games, with no backup in place in case anything happened to the second catcher. Granted, Posada pinched hit late in the game, with the game usually on the line. But, if the game went extra innings and Posada was needed to catch, there is a decent chance an injury could occur.
I base this on Posada’s fragile nature and the overall physical demands of the catching position. A foul tip here, ball in the dirt hitting the wrong spot there, or maybe a play at the plate.
Posada is notoriously shy about blocking the plate, but it still needs to be done and the runner will still try and do his job of dislodging the ball form the catcher, especially that late in the game.
All those instances can wipe involve removing your catcher from the game. And who then will catch? Cody Ransom? He is versatile and physically capable, but right now he is the only Yankee backup infielder. He is needed for that role. Eric Hinske could play infield, but he was never that good defensively at third base in his career.
Most teams carry two catchers, but that is usually workable because the starting catcher play the bulk of the games, with the backup maybe getting a start per week. Based upon usage thus far this season, Molina would be spelling Posada behind the plate 40 percent of the time.
That is too much work for the backup catcher, but the Yankees need that due to a variety of reasons, including Posada’s age, recent injury history and the certain pitchers who like to throw to Molina.
In the 23 games Cervelli has appeared in this season, he has rarely looked overmatched at the plate and even hit his first Major League home run June 24 in Atlanta. That home run broke up a no-hitter in the sixth inning, and propelled the Yankees to begin a seven game winning streak.
He also has several other timely hits (two run single off of Johan Santana on June 14), is a really good defensive catcher with a strong arm and appears to have a great working relationship with the pitchers.
During his abbreviated spring training with the Yankees (abbreviated due to his participation for Italy in the WBC), Cervelli credited Molina with helping him with the major league game.
Most people within baseball would send Cervelli down to Triple A so he can “play every day” and presumably get better. When is playing every day at a lower level allowing a baseball player to “get better?”
Players get better from playing at the highest level, and learning from their mentors.
Just like when Posada was a young player and Joe Girardi took him under his wing for the 1998 and 1999 seasons (two World Series titles by the way), Molina has taken to tutoring Cervelli on the finer points of major league catching.
And Cervelli needs this mental approach more than anything as he just began catching in 2003 when the Yankees signed him as a non-drafted free agent. The Yankees felt his body type and throwing arm were best suited behind the plate.
I know this goes against the current thinking in major league baseball, but I have always been a "go against the grain" type of guy when it comes to baseball. Not much into going by the book.
For example, why do managers always go to their "eighth inning guy" out of the bullpen when the pitcher who currently in the game is pitching well? Why the need for pitch counts and innings limits? Let the kids throw the ball!
Detroit has held 20 year old pitching phenom Rick Porcello under 100 pitches in every one of his starts this season? Why? To save his arm? Spare me the hyperbole about young pitchers and throwing a baseball.
I was at one of his high school state playoff games where he threw over 150 pitches! By the way, check out who sponsors Porcello's baseball-reference page.
Anyway, when Cervelli is kept, who should then go down to Scranton? Nobody.
Veteran pitcher Brett Tomko would need to be designated for assignment (basically released), and go through waivers where he would probably be picked up from another team. Tomko is your 12th pitcher, something I never have liked having on a major league team.
Eleven pitchers (five starter, closer, five relievers) are just fine, especially when you have four of your relievers (Phil Hughes, Phil Coke, David Robertson, Alfredo Aceves) who can pitch multiple innings.
Tomko has only been used five times since June 9 with 8 IP, allowing 8 hits, 8 ER, and 3 HR. Three times were mop up duty and twice was the game was close. Both those times he allowed big innings.
Tomko is expendable, and as I have mentioned before, he really isn't that good of a pitcher. If the Yankees need a mop-up guy, Nick Swisher is always available. He has beter number than Tomko anyway.
Go against the tide Brian Cashman and keep Cervelli around. The Yankees will be better off in the long run