For Jorge Posada, the transition away from catcher has always been a matter of time. Even during his remarkable decade-plus stretch of durability, it was clear that at some point — either because of age, production or health — the Yankees were going to have to make a change behind the plate.
That time has come. It’s been three years since Posada started more than 88 games at catcher, and last season he was so banged up that Joe Girardi was understandably hesitant to start him behind the plate more than two days in a row. Posada was an everyday catcher in name only.
In the big picture, the timing of this transition is perfect. Posada got here gradually, and the Yankees have young players ready to take over. Short-term, though, it’s hard to look at the free agent market and not wonder if the Yankees might have been tempted to press their luck one more year.
You could look at the timing Posada’s transition based on two positions: Catcher and designated hitter. Catcher is the long-term positive. DH is the short-term regret.
Passing the torch
The Yankees minor league system is ready to takeover behind the plate. At the very least, it’s ready to give the Yankees options and reason for optimism. Jesus Montero’s second half of 2010 suggested a player growing into his enormous talent, and even if doesn’t prove Major League ready behind the plate, Austin Romine is coming quickly behind him. The Yankees have both talent and depth, and they have each of those things on the cusp of the big leagues.
Two years ago there was unproven talent. One year ago, that talent had shown some results, but it still wasn’t ready for the show. Today, there are catchers on the verge. The past two years, Posada gave the Yankees enough behind the plate that they didn’t feel compelled to rush their young players or aggressively sign a replacement. Posada bridged his own gap, with some space-fillers helping along the way.
As an added bonus, this happened to be the winter Russell Martin became a free agent. Because of their catching depth, and because Posada can still catch occasionally, the Yankees could afford to take a shot on Martin rediscovering his old self. If it works, great. If not, it only gives the young guys a little more development time. In theory, this is what a catcher transition should look like: The old guard is still around and the new talent is eased in.
Filling the hole
With one more year on his contract, Posada isn’t finished just yet. He’s not longer an everyday catcher, but he can be a productive hitter. Even in a down year, when he clearly played hurt a lot of the time, Posada still hit for power and gave the Yankees production. He’s only one year removed from a vintage Posada slash line.
To keep Posada’s bat in the lineup, while keeping his body healthy, the Yankees will make their former catcher a more-or-less full-time designated hitter. It’s a natural fit, and the spot was wide open. No more Hideki Matsui. No more Jason Giambi. No more Nick Johnson.
Then again, if ever there was an offseason to go DH hunting, it was this one. The free agent market is always full of potential designated hitters — quite literally, any available hitter could theoretically fill the spot — but this winter’s crop is loaded with players who can still hit but are best kept away from any sort of glove.
Matsui and Adam Dunn have already signed, but the free agent market still has Giambi, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. A second tier offers Marcus Thames, Russell Branyan, Jose Guillen and maybe Jermaine Dye. The price for each of them must be dropping by the day, and it’s hard to imagine any of them getting more than a one year deal. Those are bats that could help the Yankees, if only there were a place for them.
Associated Press photo of Posada, headshots of Martin and Thome