When the Yankees decided to move Jorge Posada to designated hitter, they had three choices: Give the job to one of their prospects, take a chance on Francisco Cervelli full time or sign a free agent. They decided to go after Russell Martin, and the results have been mixed.
Through the first month, the Martin signing seemed inspired. Jesus Montero and Austin Romine had flopped in spring training, and Martin came roaring out of the gate with a .293 average and six home runs in April. He’s hit just .185 since then, but the pitching staff seems to love everything about him – his personality, his game calling, his ability to block A.J. Burnett’s curveballs – and it says a lot about the state of catching in the American League that Martin was voted to the all-star team on the players’ ballot. Good everyday catchers are hard to find, and Martin’s been better than most.
Even if he doesn’t hit, Martin has value for his ability to work with pitchers and play reliable defense behind the plate. Martin’s been banged up through much of the year, and the Yankees seem to think that might have contributed to his slumping offensive numbers. The Yankees also have Jesus Montero waiting in Triple-A. His power numbers aren’t nearly as good as everyone expected this season, but there still seems to be little doubt that he will be a middle-of-the-order hitter in the big leagues. If the Yankees decide Martin’s defense isn’t enough to make up for his offense, they could call up Montero.
Montero is the big name, and even without his usual power, he’s still be a pretty good hitter in Triple-A. A step below Montero, Austin Romine has pretty similar numbers in Double-A (he’s also hit for average, but not much power). All the way down in Charleston, the Yankees top lower-level prospect, Gary Sanchez, has gone through an inconsistent first full season in the minors. The organization’s breakout star behind the plate might be J.R. Murphy, who hit his way out of Charleston and is still waiting for his first Tampa home run.
Are there enough at-bats for Montero off the bench?
The Yankees don’t have to pick one or the other. They could carry both Martin and Montero, but it only makes sense if they believe Montero would get enough at-bats while splitting time behind the plate. He’s certainly a better hitter than Cervelli, but the Yankees would have to be sold on Montero’s defense and they would have to make sure he got enough playing time – either at catcher or DH – to continue his development.
There are plenty of options here. Martin is still arbitration eligible, so the Yankees could easily bring him back next year. They could decide to give the position to Montero next year, or they could decide to dangle Montero as a potent trade chip. The Yankees are making decisions behind the plate for the first time in a long time, and it’s hard to know which direction they’ll go.
Associated Press photo