Best case, worst case: Catcher • 01.28.13
This should be fun…
Best case scenario
The path is finally clear
The situation really needs no introduction. Jesus Montero is gone (you already knew that), Russell Martin is also gone (you knew that too), and the most proven catchers in the Yankees organization are a trio of long-time backups looking for an opportunity to finally get regular playing time (that too has been discussed a few times). There’s very little about the Yankees immediate catching situation that inspires confidence, but it certainly creates opportunity, and the best-case scenario is that Austin Romine takes that opportunity and runs with it.
Sure, there’s something to be said for one of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart or Bobby Wilson proving the doubters wrong — it’s certainly a good scenario to have one of those three have an impact with the glove and hit a little better than expected — but the absolute best-case scenario is Romine establishing himself. Because he was overshadowed for so long, it’s easy to forget that Romine was a second-round pick who, before last year’s back injury, was considered one of the better catching prospects in the game. Two years ago, MLB.com ranked him ahead of Travis d’Arnaud. A healthy Romine — with a steady bat and a glove that lives up to recent Yankees hype — could be a young, cheap solution for this year and the immediate future.
And if we’re talking best-case scenario’s, Romine will have to take advantage of this window, because the Yankees highest hopes don’t leave much time before Gary Sanchez is ready. Still very much a work in progress, Sanchez’s bat has plenty of believers, but if he can show some maturity in the clubhouse and improvement behind the plate, he just might push himself among the very best prospects in the game. A good year at Double-A will suggest that Sanchez is transitioning from potential to performance, and it could put him on track to have a big league impact as early as the second half of 2014. Add in some Double-A improvement from J.R. Murphy, and the Yankees days of a glove-only catcher could be limited to this offseason only.
Where have you gone Chad Moeller?
Stewart is a career .217/.281/.302 hitter in the big leagues. Cervelli hit .246/.341/.316 in Triple-A last season. Wilson has never started more than 58 games in a major league season. The worst-case scenario behind the plate is just as obvious as the opportunity that it provides: If no one steps up, the Yankees could have an offensive black hole at the position. Defensively, the in-house options provide at least some sense of stability – even in a worst-case scenario, the Yankees should be able to catch and throw behind the plate – but the low side of offensive possibilities is awfully low.
As for a prospect to fill the gap and provide a bat, the immediate option is Romine, with some outside chance of Murphy putting himself into the picture in the second half. But Romine’s back problems kept him sidelined almost all of last year, and back problems have a tendency to linger. If that injury lingers, and if Murphy fails to live up to his offensive potential – which is his prospect calling card – then the Yankees will have no catching prospects within two years of being big league ready.
Sanchez could push to be in New York within two years, but that’s a best-case scenario involving improvements behind the plate and continued development at the plate. In a worst-case scenario, Sanchez creates more doubt and less optimism about his ability to stick at catcher, which would be a significant blow to his prospect status and leave the organization in needing to commit resources – either on the free agent market or via trade – to find a catcher who can handle the job for the next several years.
Associated Press photos
Brian Heyman back here at the Stadium for this middle game of the series against the Red Sox. Nick Swisher still isn’t in the lineup. This will be the seventh straight time the game has started without him because of his mild hip flexor strain. The thing is, Swisher says he feels available for anything today. I saw him down taking batting practice.
But Joe Girardi is waiting.
“I don’t blame him,” Swisher said. “I don’t want to go backwards. … I just want to play.”
Girardi didn’t rule out using him as a pinch hitter today.
“In talking to him, he felt pretty good yesterday,” Girardi said. “But we’ve got to make sure that it’s real good, because if you go out and play one day and you have a little setback, now you’re looking at 15, 16 days. So one or two days might buy you a lot of time in the future.
“I think it’s difficult for him because he loves to play. But I think he understands, too, that we need him and we don’t want him to go back to where he has to go on the DL because he reinjures it.”
So the Ichiro-to-left move will have to wait until Girardi deems that Swisher is ready to head back out to right.
“Our real hope was today, in my mind, I would feel that he was 100 percent,” Girardi said. “I just don’t think he’s quite there. We’ve waited this long. What’s maybe one or two more days?”
Chris Stewart is catching CC Sabathia again even though Girardi would like to pair up Russell Martin again with the lefty. They will need to be in sync for Game 1 in October. Martin is the DH today.
“He caught last night,” Girardi said. “It is a day game after a night game. At some point, I want to do it. I can’t tell you when I’m going to do it.
“But it has seemed to work out. It seems to keep them both fresh. I think Russell has swung the bat better since he’s come back in the second half. Maybe some of that has to do with not playing him day games after night games.”
Stewart has caught 15 of Sabathia’s starts this season and they have a 2.92 ERA together, according to baseball-reference.com. Martin has caught two and they have a 6.75 ERA together.
“If you throw him back there (in the postseason) and he hasn’t caught him all year, I guess it’s an issue,” Girardi said. “You want to make sure both of them are comfortable. Not just the pitcher, but you want the catcher to be comfortable, too, that he has a sense that he knows what CC wants to throw and they’re on the same page. I think that’s really important.”
Sabathia is 10-3. Overall, the Yankees have gone 19-11 when Stewart has been the starter.
Let’s start with CC Sabathia after this 8-3 win for the Yankees. He went from hittable through three innings (three runs, four hits) to unhittable the next 4 1/3 to secure his first win. The lefty said it started with a mechanical tip from pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
“Larry came to me after the third and he just said, ‘Make sure you get on top of the fastball.’ That was all I needed to hear,” Sabathia said. “The command came. (Chris Stewart) called a good game. So I just kind of got in the flow.”
Sabathia said his fastball velocity wasn’t what it was previously, but that fact “helped me stay under control.” Sabathia is 9-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his last 10 starts against Minnesota, including the postseason. He gave the Yankees their third quality start in 11 tries and his first in three.
“Hopefully we can get on a roll,” Sabathia said. “We do have a really deep pitching staff and a really good one. It’s just up to us to make the pitches and show that potential.”
Stewart’s contributions both behind the plate and with the bat didn’t go unnoticed.
“Player of the game,” Brett Gardner said.
The light-hitting backup catcher tied his career high with two hits and set a career high with three RBI. The offensive contributions, he said, are always a bonus.
“Not only one of my best nights, but it was in Yankee Stadium of all places and I’m wearing pinstripes,” Stewart said. “Definitely one I’m not going to forget.”
Gardner made a great catch to end the Twins’ two-run third, racing in and diving to make the grab. But he hurt his right wrist in the process.
“I was a little worried about it coming in,” Gardner said. “I definitely could feel it a little bit. But as the game went on, it actually felt a little better and a little better. So I’m not really too concerned about it.”
The 7, 8 and 9 guys in the order — Eduardo Nunez, Gardner and Stewart — combined to go 6 for 10 with four runs scored, two doubles and five RBI. Nunez went 2 for 4 with an RBI. He wasn’t even in the original lineup. He was only inserted at short in a chain of moves after Mark Teixeira was scratched with flu-like symptoms. The Yankees’ depth is going to be important because as Joe Girardi said. “Not everyone in that room is 25.”
Girardi said his guess is that Teixeira will be able to play Wednesday night.
The pitching matchup will feature Hiroki Kuroda and Jason Marquis.
The Yankees first signed Chris Stewart in 2008. He caught one big league game that season, then the Yankees made a small trade to get him back the following year. Yesterday, they traded for him a second time, and this time they plan to carry him as their big league backup.
“It’s not like it’s some Podunk team from nowhere trying to get me,” Stewart said. “It’s the New York Yankees. With the prestige and everything that goes on around here, it’s nice to be wanted not just by any team but by the Yankees themselves.”
Why do the Yankees like him enough to keep bringing him back? And why do they think he can be a big league backup with his limited big league experience?
“Chris Stewart is an exceptional defensive player, right out of the Jose Molina mold,” Brian Cashman said. “(Francisco) Cervelli is obviously a better hitter than he is.”
Stewart is here to catch, and he does that very well. When he learned about the trade, he was already in San Francisco with the Giants. He didn’t want to leave his car there, so he made the seven-hour drive to his home in Southern California, where he packed some of the dark blue catching gear he had leftover from stints with the Yankees and Padres, then he caught a red-eye flight to Tampa. He landed at 9 this morning and arrived at today’s workout on the team bus. He also knows most of the guys in the clubhouse.
“It’s going to be a quick learning experience (and) go get ‘em tomorrow,” Stewart said. “I’ve got to cram as much information into my head as I can tonight and early tomorrow and be ready if my name gets called tomorrow. I caught a lot of these guys before so I know what they have, and I’ve faced the others a good majority of the time, so I have a good idea. Now it’s just finalizing their game plans and what they’re tring to think out there on the mound. … My baseball goal pretty much is to take care of the pitchers behind the plate — and whatever I can chip in offensively I’m going to take as well — but my goal is to try to get those pitchers through the game with the least amount of runs as possible. To be touted as a defensive catcher is an honor for me.”
Associated Press photo
The day after the Yankees set their Opening Day roster, most of the questions seemed to center on guys who aren’t on the list. What’s next for Andy Pettitte? Is there a rehab plan for Michael Pineda? And, once again, why is Francisco Cervelli not on this team?
“I think he’s one of the best 60 catchers in the game, without a doubt,” Brian Cashman said. “I just think that right now, we have maybe three of the best 60 catchers in the game. That’s good for us, but obviously that’s not good for him because one of them is out of options and he’s not that guy.”
Chris Stewart took an overnight flight from California and joined the team this morning. He’s actually somewhat familiar with some of the pitching staff, having previously caught Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. As for Cervelli, he’s been shipped to Lehigh Valley for the Triple-A team’s opening series against the IronPigs.
He’s no longer the Yankees backup, but he’s still second in line for the starting job. Joe Girardi said today that Cervelli would become the starter if Russell Martin got hurt. He’s in Triple-A strictly because that’s the only way the Yankees could make it work while increasing their catching depth with Stewart.
“I think (Cervelli) would play the majority of the games is Russell got hurt,” Girardi said.
Essentially, the Yankees backup plan went from Cervelli/Craig Tatum to Cervelli/Stewart. They see that as an upgrade worth losing a pretty good young relief pitcher. Who they’re carrying as a backup on Opening Day isn’t a huge issue — it is for Cervelli, obviously, but the Yankees seem happy with either option — so this is really about a Plan B should Martin get hurt.
“If we had a problem and all of a sudden we’re vulnerable, and I went out of my way to look for someone to fix it, it’s going to cost,” Cashman said. “At that position it’s going to cost. Now, I don’t feel as vulnerable.”
• Michael Pineda made 25 throws today and experience no problems, but the Yankees are still uncertain about what comes next for him. “What he had was mild, at least by the MRI,” Cashman said. “It was hopefully nothing but a bump in the road. At the same time, you’ve got to wait until he’s back doing what he’s supposed to be doing, so I give that with a little bit of a caveat.”
• Andy Pettitte is not with the team. He’s back in Tampa preparing for his first minor league start, which will probably come on Monday. “I would anticipate that he’ll be on a regular schedule now,” Joe Girardi said. “Throw a side in couple of days, make a start and just continue to build up.”
• It’s too early to know which of Pettitte and Pineda will be ready first. “I can’t really tell you on that until Pineda starts throwing,” Girardi said. “We have to talk about when we think he’s going to pick up a baseball and start playing catch, when do we feel he’ll be on a mound, when do we feel he’s going to be in a game? We haven’t gotten to that, yet. He’s built up, though. That’s the difference. Depending on how long he sits out, we’ll have a difference of when he could be back.”
• Girardi’s made it clear that he plans to play Eduardo Nunez against left-handers, using that as an opportunity to DH either Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter. That likely means Brett Gardner will get a lot of days off against lefties while Andruw Jones plays left field. As for Nunez, the Yankees seem to really believe he’ll be productive this season, and they’re planning to start him Saturday against David Price. “I’m not waiting a month this year (to put him in the lineup),” Girardi said.
• Girardi on David Phelps making the team: “I think it’s important that he really soaks in tomorrow. I tell the players, ‘Just take a second and realize where you’re at, what you’ve worked so hard for your whole life and dreamt about.’ It’s a pretty neat feeling the first time your name is called and you go out there.”
• CC Sabathia had a slight head cold for his final spring start in Miami, but he said that’s gone. “I feel fine now,” he said. “That’s still no excuse for why I didn’t pitch good (last time). It’s just one of those nights.”
• Sabathia was occasionally disappointed by his fastball command this spring. “It was pretty good in my bullpen (after the last start),” he said. “I was excited about that. I throw everything off my fastball — my changeup, my cutter, everything. I need to have that to be able to pitch well.”
• Cashman on Alfredo Aceves being named the Red Sox closer: “When he’s healthy he’s not afraid of anything and he’s capable of everything.”
• Random clubhouse note: Eric Chavez has moved into the locker that Jorge Posada was always assigned here at the Trop. Chavez is now in the row of veterans that includes Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones and Mark Teixeira.
Associated Press photo
Quiet Yankees camp didn’t last long • 04.05.12
Remember when Yankees camp opened? The A.J. Burnett trade was all but complete, the Raul Ibanez signing was a matter of time and interest in Eric Chavez was public knowledge. There didn’t seem to be many surprises left. The Yankees would pick from six rotation candidates, move the sixth starter into the long relief role and choose someone to round out the bullpen.
Camp stayed quiet almost a full month, but quiet never lasts long around here.
In the past three weeks, Yankees camp has taken plenty of twists and turns, and it started with news that caught everyone by surprise on an otherwise quiet Friday.
Andy Pettitte comes out of retirement
I don’t know about you, but I was eating lunch when Jack Curry’s tweet hit the internet. I was sitting with Wall Street Journal beat writer Dan Barbarisi, and when he showed me his phone, I told him I didn’t get the joke. Pettitte had been in Yankees camp as a guest instructor in late February, and I’d been standing three feet from from him when he said he was happy in retirement. There was no chance of Pettitte coming back, until suddenly he was back. Quiet Yankees camp? Not any more.
Joba Chamberlain dislocates ankle
There was something about the way Brian Cashman broke the news that made it sound even worse than it was. He gathered the media in the Yankees dugout and started out by saying Chamberlain, “got into a pretty significant accident with his son.” When you’re thinking the worst, a dislocated ankle doesn’t sound so bad, but obviously it’s a significant setback. Chamberlain wasn’t going to break camp with the Yankees anyway, but this further delays his return from Tommy John surgery and creates further questions of what kind of long-term impact he’s capable of having.
Michael Pineda feels shoulder soreness
To be honest, it was beginning to feel like Pineda might not make the rotation anyway. His results weren’t particularly bad, but Pineda wasn’t pitching anything like the guy the Yankees meant to acquire — his velocity was down, his offspeed stuff was up – and Joe Girardi couldn’t say enough nice things about Freddy Garcia. Shoulder tendinitis might explain the diminished velocity, or it might have been caused by a desire to generate velocity. Either way, Pineda’s out for at least a few weeks, and it’s still far too early to say the trade was a good one or a bad one.
Francisco Cervelli demoted, Chris Stewart acquired
Cervelli wasn’t happy, and it was hard to blame him. The Yankees didn’t need to make this move, but they chose to give up some of their considerable pitching depth to improve their short-term catching depth. Necessary? Probably not. But I doubt it’s a game-changer either way. I happen to be a George Kontos believer, but the Yankees didn’t carry him even with a long relief opening. I also happen to like Stewart as a defensive backup, and if the Yankees weren’t comfortable with their catching depth after the Austin Romine injury, this probably helped the situation.