During the 1996 baseball season, the New York Yankees’ full-time catcher, a 31-year-old by the name of Joe Girardi, caught 124 games, batted a career-high .294 and helped guide the pitching staff to a 92-70 record en route to the team’s first World Series championship since 1978.
Waiting in the wings was a 24th round draft pick, a 24-year-old who began his Yankees career as a second baseman in 1991 before being converted to a catcher the following minor league season.
Jorge Posada played only eight major league games in 1996, instead concentrating his energy on logging 106 games and a .271 average at AAA Columbus.
Three years later, the roles had reversed, with aging veteran Girardi’s duty limited to 65 games—mainly as the personal catcher for perfect game weaver David Cone—while Posada had upped his contribution to 112 games to go with a .245 average.
Girardi parted ways for the south side of Chicago the following season, leaving his protégé to rack up a .277 career batting average, 243 home runs—the second most by a Yankees catcher in history-- and two championship rings.
Now as the 38-year-old Posada comes off one of those championship seasons where he batted .285—the third best average of his career—Posada, his creaky knees and surgically-repaired shoulder say that he is ready to share the load behind the plate.
Thankfully, according to Baseball America’s list of the top 10 Yankees’ prospect released on Wednesday, Posada has the luxury of not one but four options who can step into the void that he filled with his now-manager’s departure in 2000.
“I would love to have [the Yankees’ top prospect Jesus Montero] there [in the big-leagues] with me and teach him like I was taught,” Posada told the New York Daily News on Wednesday. “I have to be a teacher now. I would like that. We’ll see if we have to do that.”
While the Yankees don’t have to panic just yet—Posada is coming off a strong season following shoulder surgery that ended his 2008 season and has said that he plans to catch 115 to 120 games—having catchers Montero and Austin Romine as the top two prospects in their farm system as well as Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy as the seventh and eighth prospects, respectively, the Yankees at least have the chance for a painless post-Posada era transition—if they begin the grooming now.
Montero, who celebrated his 20th birthday in November and is expected to open the season at Triple-A, had a strong first full season in the minor leagues, hitting .337 with 17 home runs and a slugging percentage of .562—eclipsing Posada’s statistics as a 20-year-old, when he hit .277 with 12 home runs and a .472 slugging percentage in his first full season as a catcher.
Romine, who recently turned 21, has two full seasons of minor league experience under his belt, having racked up a .288 batting average with a high in home runs (13) and slugging percentage (.441) this past season.
While the Yankees organization hopes that Posada will be able to remain a productive backstop through the end of the 4-year, $52 million contract that he penned at the end of the 2007 season, Posada’s own transition to a new position—possibly to Hideki Matsui’s now-vacated full-time DH spot—may come sooner than anyone in the organization hopes.
If history truly does repeat itself, then at least the Yankees still have the two main figures from that past on their side. Now it’s up to them to decide how the next chapter will be written.