Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Potential Yankees-Red Sox Deal (Sort Of)

The Yankees have a problem. Last night, Jorge Posada pulled himself from the Yankees’ lineup after seeing that Joe Girardi had penciled him in at the nine spot, which would’ve been his first time hitting at the bottom of the lineup in exactly a dozen years. Conflicting reports surfaced, with GM Brian Cashman saying on-air that Posada removed himself because of his lineup placement, while Posada stated that he’d pulled himself because of concerns about soreness in his back. Cashman disputed this, saying that Posada hadn’t consulted with Yankees team doctors or trainers about the injury. The baseball blogosphere caught fire, some speculating that the Yankees would try to cut ties with Posada, potentially voiding his contract. I can tell you right now that’s not going to happen, as the Player’s Union would go absolutely nuts. Posada said today that he had apologized to Girardi and that by pulling himself, he had “let some people down.”

Regardless, even if the issue of Posada’s removing himself blows over, the reasoning behind Girardi’s dropping him to the bottom of his lineup card likely will not; Posada’s been simply awful with the lumber so far this year. His days as a catcher are certainly over, and his days as an employable ballplayer seem as though they might soon follow. In the DH slot, Posada’s only job this year has been to hit, and to put it bluntly, he hasn’t. Posada’s showing his age, as his strikeout rate is the highest it’s been since 2002, his walk rate has dropped over a percent from last year, he’s pairing a career-low line drive rate with a career-high groundball rate, and his wRC+ of 69 is the worst of any designated hitter so far this year. If Posada keeps this up much longer, Girardi will have no choice but to pull him from the lineup altogether rather than simply slotting him ninth. The Bronx Bombers don’t exactly have any other exciting options to DH on their roster, as Andruw Jones and his equally ugly wRC+ of 68 will fill the position tonight.

However, there may be a more attractive option waiting patiently at the Yankees Triple-A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Catcher Jesus Montero, the Yankees top prospect and Baseball America’s third overall prospect in its 2011 top 100, is currently in his second year with the Yankees top minor league affiliate after putting up a wRC+ of 132 at the level last season. There’s no question among talent evaluators that his bat is ready for the bigs, but his glove may not be, and he’s not a lock to stick behind the plate (although he’s caught 25 of 28 games for Scranton, major questions about his defense remain) by any stretch of the imagination. The only reason he's still in the minors are those questions about his defensive and game-calling ability. However, if Posada is truly out as DH, the Yankees could call up Montero and slot him in immediately at the position, improving their lineup and allowing Montero to finally earn his well-deserved promotion, as he really has very little left to prove at the minor league level, especially with the bat in his hands. Assuming the Yankees still think he has a shot to be a catcher long-term (and since they’ve been playing him there in the minors, you’d have to believe they do), they could even hand him catching duties once or twice a week. If he’s a DH, his bat is good. If he sticks at catcher, it has a chance to be legendary.

That would give the Yankees a logjam at catcher, as Russell Martin has found new life in pinstripes (although he has cooled off lately after his impressive start) and Francisco Cervelli continues to be a serviceable big leaguer with youth and some sort of upside in his favor. This could be the surplus the Yanks need to pick up a mid-tier starting pitcher at the deadline, assuming they don’t continue to benefit from the surprising resurgences of both Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia (and there are reasons to believe they won’t, especially in Garcia’s case).

The Red Sox have a problem. Whoever they’ve picked to don the tools of ignorance, the results at the plate have been ugly. Red Sox catchers are currently hitting for a brutal wRC+ of 35, second worst in baseball. Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia have combined for –0.5 WAR and an average below the Mendoza line, and have touched ‘em all a total of zero times. Theo Epstein and his brain trust have begun to search for potential alternate options, but so far the market is shaping up to be pretty ugly. They’re talking about attempting to convince Bengie Molina to un-retire. As a Giants fan, I had the pleasure of watching Molina for much of last season. Trust me, though the man has had a good career, at this point you don’t want him to be your main option flashing signs from the squat. Other potential options are similarly un-enticing… except for potentially Martin, should the aforementioned move to using Montero as the main DH and backup catcher come to pass.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. The Yankees and Red Sox are not going to make a trade. Never mind that they’re in the same division. With all due respect to the Cubs, Cards, Dodgers, and Giants, this is the biggest, most storied, most intense rivalry in all of sports. The two teams haven’t swapped players in well over a decade. On August 13, 1997, the Sawx sent Mike Stanley and Randy Brown to the Bronx for Tony Armas Jr. (later sent to Montreal as part of the package that netted Boston Pedro Martinez) and Jim Mecir. Since then, the phone lines between the GM’s offices in Yankee Stadium and Fenway have been cold. I’m not going to suggest that Theo Epstein and Brian Cashman will suddenly decide to swap with their bitter rivals, something neither GM has done in their long and successful careers. However, there are pluses on both sides for these teams. For that reason, I’m going to propose an alternative. I’m a huge admirer of Epstein, and so I’m going create a scenario where he gets a little creative.

The year is 1988. Mike Piazza is halfway through his final season under contract with the Dodgers. Though the young backstop had been spectacular in Los Angeles, especially beside the plate, it was quickly becoming clear that the Dodgers were going to have serious trouble resigning their star catcher. Afraid of losing Piazza to free agency without compensation, the Dodgers shipped him to Florida in a massive seven-player deal. Piazza, however, wouldn’t be a Marlin for long. After eight days and just five games with the Fish, he packed his bags again as he was sent to the Mets. New York locked Piazza up on a seven-year, $91 million contract, and he used his time in New York to continue to cement his legendary status as the best offensive catcher in the history of the game. As a former catcher, I’m as big a Johnny Bench fan as you’ll find, but no backstop comes close to matching Piazza’s domination at the plate.

So what does this have to do with the Red Sox catching situation? Let’s say Theo Epstein calls up a fellow GM, asks them to acquire Martin from the Yankees and send him to the Sox. The third team makes whatever deal they feel is best to pick up the object of the Sox’ desire, likely sending a starting pitcher to the Bombers, then takes a prospect from Boston for their trouble. In one fell swoop, the Yankees fix their DH situation by installing Montero, pick up another option for the rotation, and clear out the catching logjam that could result from Montero’s promotion. Likewise, the Red Sox fix their ugly catching situation, picking up a backstop who’s still relatively young and has shown promise in the past, and still has a year of team control remaining as a Super Two in his second-to-last arbitration year. The icing on the cake: the teams don’t have to break their 14-year streak of avoiding transactions between each other, and as a newly minted Yankee, Martin isn’t nearly as stained by the pinstripe stigma as most others in the Bronx, meaning he’d still probably have a chance to catch on and be accepted by Boston’s discerning fans. Sure, it’s a little far-fetched. But as much as these two teams hate each other, they both have glaring flaws, and the ability to hammer out a mutually beneficial deal, even if it does require them to get a little creative to circumvent a direct transaction.

1 comment:

  1. Update... Salty just hit the first home run from a Sox catcher this year. Point still stands. As if to illustrate, it bounced off the top of the right field wall in Yankee Stadium.