New York Yankees: Catching Decisions Based on Trade Value, Not Performance
Almost as soon as the season ended, the Yankees made the decision on Jorge Posada: He would not catch in 2011.
I don't even think he was allowed to bring a glove to spring training.
It was assumed that this would open the door for top catching prospect, Jesus Montero, to become the Yankees every day catcher.
Replacing Posada wouldn't be easy, but for a team labeled as "old," a youth movement would be a good thing.
Then the Yankees signed free agent catcher Russell Martin and immediately anointed him the starter.
This left Montero to compete with Francisco Cervelli for the back up role.
Cervelli was on a tear in spring training when he fouled a ball off his foot, breaking it, and destroying his Opening Day chances and giving Montero yet another opening.
Flash forward three weeks and Montero is no closer to winning a job with the Yankees than he was when camp started.
If anything, he's even further away.
After crushing 21 home runs in Triple-A last year, Montero has failed to impress anyone in spring training and the questionable defense he brought with him has been exactly as billed.
Where should Montero start 2011?
The Yankees have now shifted their attention to a non-roster catcher on a minor league contract: Gustavo Molina. He's not a member of the world famous Catching Molina Brothers—Yadier, Bengie and Jose—but he brings major league experience to the table, which gives him the advantage over Montero.
It's not so much about spring training performance; through 17 games, Montero is batting .263 with no home runs. It's about the ability to call games on the major league level, something Montero doesn't seem able to do just yet.
But more importantly, it's above preserving the perception of Montero as a top prospect. Baseball America ranked Montero the No. 3 prospect in baseball on their annual top 100 list.
Would Montero still hold that position if he wins the back up job, comes up and hits .200 over the first two months of the season? How quick would the fans, so ecstatic over his minor league numbers, turn on him and begin calling for Posada back behind the dish?
The other option is the Yankees other top catching prospect, Austin Romine. But he hasn't hit much either. Though he's considered superior defensively to Montero, he's never caught above Double-A, so the same questions which apply to Montero, apply to Romine.
In 14 games, Molina is batting .077 with seven strike outs in just 13 at-bats. So, it's not about his numbers either.
This is about ensuring that if the Yankees find a suitable trade mid-season for a starting pitcher, their available prospects still have some value.
If the Yankees decide to go with Molina, he's nothing more than a placeholder for Cervelli, who could be back by the end of April. When Cervelli comes back, Molina will be gone faster than you can count to three.
Meanwhile, Montero will be in the minors, improving, among other things, his defense. Right now, any team in baseball would jump at the chance to add Montero to their minor league system.
If the Yankees had been able to pull off a trade with the Seattle Mariners for Cliff Lee last season, Montero would already be gone. Given the Yankees depth of catching prospects, Montero may find himself thrown into a trade once again this season.
For that to happen, he's got to have value. Languishing as a back up catcher wont help that.
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