For now, all the Russell Martin signing means for the immediate future of Jesus Montero — and Austin Romine for that matter — is that the Yankees have options. Martin gives the Yankees flexibility, plain and simple.
“Breaking in Robinson Cano at second base, or Brett Gardner in left field, or Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen, or Phil Hughes at the back of the rotation, or (Dave) Robertson in the bullpen,” Brian Cashman said, “those are a lot easier than breaking in a young catcher in the big leagues, especially with high veteran starters and relievers in a pennant race in the American League East. Russell Martin, we hope, is the perfect situation to come along to allow us the timeframe to gives these kids the chance to (develop).”
Montero just turned 21. He hit .252/.328/.415 in the first half last season, and he had to be disciplined for his attitude. By all accounts, things changed in the second half when he was better behind the plate, at the plate and in the dugout. I truly believe that the Yankees think he’s ready for the big leagues, but a few more months in Triple-A certainly won’t hurt him. Romine has never caught a game above Double-A, and he hit .268 in Trenton last season. At this very moment, he’s hardly a can’t-miss option at the big league level.
There’s no need to rush either of them, and adding an experienced catcher — especially one with Martin’s potential — makes obvious sense. But what might it ultimately mean for the future of Montero and Romine? Well, this move is about giving the Yankees options, and there are plenty of options for their young catchers.
New plan, same as the old plan
It doesn’t seem likely, but Cashman didn’t rule out the idea of either Montero or Romine beating Francisco Cervelli for the backup job out of spring training. “Those are things we’re going to work through in the spring,” Cashman said. There is still a chance — especially if Martin gets hurt again — that one of those two could open the season in New York, in one role or another. Not likely, but certainly an option.
The change of plans could be temporary. If Montero crushes the ball in Triple-A, or Romine takes a giant step forward, one of them could force his way to New York by mid-season. Martin isn’t a sure thing after two disappointing seasons, and his signing could do nothing but buy a little time for Montero or Romine to force the Yankees hand. Things could also change with a mid-season injury in New York.
See you in September
Could be that Martin is nothing but a one-year stepping stone. If Martin hits this season, and the young guys make progress in the minors, the Yankees could wait until September to give Montero or Romine a look in the big leagues — get their feet wet that way — and make the transition next season when the development has taken another step forward.
One is good, two is better
Martin is still arbitration eligible next season, and Jorge Posada is in the last year of his contract. Isn’t it entirely possible that Martin could bounce back to his all-star self, the Yankees could decide he’s actually their catcher of the near future and Montero could step into Posada’s DH role next season? Instead of being the bridge to Montero, couldn’t Martin become the bridge to Gary Sanchez? It’s possible.
Prospects are prospects, nothing more
Can’t pretend that every possible scenario is a good one. There’s a lot to like about Montero and Romine, but they haven’t done a thing at the big league level, and there’s always the chance they never will. The addition of Martin lets the Yankees keep the young guys in the minor leagues, where holes might be discovered and best-case scenario’s might not play out. There’s always the chance that Martin is, in fact, the best 20-something catcher currently in the Yankees organization.
From friend to foe
This is the part that makes a lot of folks nervous: Martin makes it easier for the Yankees to trade Montero or Romine if the right opportunity presents itself. Cashman has made it clear he’ll be hesitant to deal a proven hitter like Montero. Think of all the times Cashman did not trade Phil Hughes. It’s that kind of situation. If Montero is dealt, it will be for an elite player (like the Cliff Lee proposal in the summer). That’s one of the benefits of having considerable depth at a single position, and Martin limits the short-term impact if Cashman does pull the trigger.