Monday, January 18, 2010

Po-tential problem in the Bronx

First off, I apologize for my cheesy New York Post-esque use of a headline pun. The Jets' somewhat miraculous run deep into the NFL playoffs has left me delirious.

My heart is racing like Steve Howe at Studio 54, and I have the constant urge to hit things as hard as possible. This is probably what it's like to be Shelley Duncan at all times. Beware residents of the greater Cleveland area.

My masterful pun is, of course, in reference to our man Jorge Posada, the New York Yankees' starting catcher for the 2010 season. This designation worries me, seeing as Mr. Posada is, well, no spring chicken.

Posada will turn 39 in August. The only catcher I can remember being productive at that age is Jake Taylor for the 1989 Indians. Naturally, this is problematic since the gutsy Taylor was a fictional character portrayed by action star Tom Berenger.

A better example is perhaps Carlton Fisk, who chugged along behind the plate into his mid-forties. Fisk provides a precedent, but it's worrisome that the Yankees plan on the exception being the rule here.

Posada remained a more-than-capable offensive player in 2009, hitting 22 homers and driving in 81 runs in just 383 at-bats. But his production couldn't overshadow the fact that his defense regressed noticeably.

Posada's caught-stealing percentage remained in line with his career numbers at 28 percent (commendable for a player coming off major shoulder surgery), but he appeared to lose considerable quickness behind the plate. The numbers bear this out: There were 41 wild pitches and eight passed balls in Posada's 100 games caught. This would've put him on pace for career-worst totals in both categories had he caught his customary 130-plus games.

If Posada continues this career trajectory, it's not crazy to think his defense will become a major talking point of the Yankees' season. There's a chance it may lead to Mike Francesa's head exploding live on the YES network.

The Yankees let Jose Molina, Posada's backup the past two seasons, walk in free agency. Francisco Cervelli is in line to be the new understudy. Cervelli was a feel-good story last spring when injuries to Posada and Molina pressed the then untested minor leaguer into everyday duty. Cervelli excelled defensively, and even hit a little bit. But he's just 23 and remains a largely untested commodity.

The Nick Johnson signing was strange on a multiple levels, partly because he walks with a limp, partly because he now resembles Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket, but mostly because he'll clog the DH spot.

This went against what was inferred as a major reason why Hideki Matsui was not retained; The Yankees were set on keeping the DH slot open for their veteran position players. It's what Joe Girardi refers to as a "half-day off," and it was geared specifically for the likes of A-Rod, Jeter, Damon, and yes, Posada.

A 15-year veteran playing the game's most demanding position, Posada has the most to gain from a rotating DH strategy. If Johnson stays healthy—which admittedly is like saying, "If Conan sends NBC a Christmas card this year"—but if Johnson stays in the lineup, that all goes out the window.

The Yankees seem prepared to ask Posada to catch the majority of their games in 2010. Posada is a notorious gym rat who will enter the season absolutely prepared for the rigors of his position. He also pulled a wife several country miles out of his league, so I suppose he's not the type of guy to sell short.

But the fact remains that he's an old man playing a young man's position. Posada went from a middling second base prospect to one of the top slugging catchers of his generation. We're about to find out if he has another surprise in him.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.


sluggerbaby said...

Posada is still a dynamic catcher. Yes, he's getting "up there." Yes, his arm ain't what it used to be. And yes, maybe it never was. Neither was Mike Piazza's.

So what? A catcher is comprised of so much more than his isolated parts, or even his stats. That's what makes baseball such a beautiful game.

Stat-lovers can analyze things to such ridiculous extremes, and still - there's mystery and chemistry and intellect, which combine to make the game so unexpected and so passionate.

That's what many bloggers, media people and sports fans seem to be overlooking lately.

Hoping to see an end to this tiresome tirade of Posada-bashing. I look forward to seeing him behind the dish in '10.

And what the hey...? If you want to be taken seriously as a baseball writer, please leave opinions on anyone's ability to "snag a hottie" on a more private blog. Thanks.

Dan Hanzus said...

With all due respect, I can write about whatever I please here. It is, after all, my blog.

The last thing I want to be considered is a "serious" baseball writer. There are already too many of those.