The bad news keeps flowing in like sludge from a busted Bronx sewer drain.
Jorge Posada has a broken foot and will be out 3-4 weeks after fouling a ball off his foot in Wednesday night's 10-6 beatdown at the hands of the first-place Tampa Bay Rays. Yes he is an aging catcher. And no he doesn't have much of an arm anymore. But Jorge Posada is a switch-hitter with power that is a crucial fixture in the Yankee lineup, whether his is behind the plate or batting from the DH spot.
There is absolutely no way the Yankees can replace Posada's offense. Few teams in baseball, using their current starters as examples, could match/replace Posada's offensive output. Jorge carries to the DL a .326/6/14 and .406/.618/1.024 stat line. Compare that to 27-year-old Joe Mauer who stands at .344/2/20 and .410/.500/.910 going into Friday and one can see just how valuable Posada's bat is.
So there are two issues here:
1. The Yankees must find a bat to replace Posada's production in the lineup.
2. They also need a capable catcher.
These two facets are normally tied together in the figure of Jorge Posada but without him the Yankees will have to separate the attributes as most teams are forced to do.
The initial move by the organization was to call up veteran Chad Moeller to backup the now full-time catcher Francisco Cervelli. The latter is the logical answer to start until Posada returns. Defensively Cervelli has a solid arm, handles his pitchers well, and knows how to call a game. And while his .357/2/10 and .442/.493/.935 stat line will likely see a decline at some point, the Yankees could do a whole lot worse than Cervelli, especially considering his uncanny aptitude for producing with runners in scoring position thus far.
Behind Francisco, things get a little murky. Moeller is obviously not a truly viable option, even as a backup. In a career spanning 10 seasons Moeller has played for five different teams and posted brutal career numbers including a .226 batting average, a .288 OBP, and a .639 OPS. And while Moeller is serviceable defensively, his 23% caught stealing percentage barely justifies his position on a major league roster.
The Yankees' other option is 6'4", 225-pound Triple-A prospect Jesus Montero. Never known for his glove work, Montero has long been viewed as a top Yankees' offensive prospect, especially after the departure of the highly touted Austin Jackson to the Tigers. Montero is recognized throughout baseball for his bat, considered one of the best offensive prospects in the game.
But in 34 contests for the Yankees AAA affiliate Scarnton/Wilkes-Barre, Montero has failed miserably to produce at the plate, falling drastically short of his career minor league stats in the Yankees' system. Although only 20, the trend is troubling.
Montero's minor league career: .314/40/195 and .371/.495/.866 (291 games)
Montero's 2010 stats: .230/3/19 and .304/.385/.689 (34 games)
The consensus is that Montero will be with the Yankees by next season at the latest. But apparently the team doesn't feel like he is ready for the show at this point, and the stats seem to support the analysis. Jesus Montero will likely be a highly proficient major league hitter someday — whether behind the plate or not — but his time is likely not now if he is struggling so badly against AAA pitching. Given Jesus' stellar minor league numbers pre-2010, some at bats at AAA will likely benefit him more than the occasional appearance with the big club.
So for now the Yanks will go with Cervelli and Moeller (another re-signing circa 2008) behind the plate. But the offensive void left by Posada still hasn't been addressed. While the New York possess an outstanding offensive infield the outfield is weak at the plate to put it mildly.
Nick Swisher has been hot, providing an early spark that has been dulled by his recent bicep injury. Bret Gardner has posted outstanding all around statistics but the one area he lacks in is power production (.326 avg, 17 steals, two home runs); a facet where Randy Winn also lacks. And with Marcus Thames now day-to-day with a sprained left ankle, the Yankees are abnormally offensively handicapped in the outfield.
It is a rare occurrence that the epicenter of a team's offense lies in the infield. But with Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada, the 2010 Yankees may have the greatest offensive infield ever assembled (sounds like a bold statement but name a better one). But the outfield is a totally different issues. While most teams traditionally have power hitters in their outfield the Yankees are stocked with players of average offensive aptitude that, thankfully for the team, have been producing far beyond what their career stats project. But while an array in the outfield including Randy Winn, Brett Gardner, and Nick Swisher may be advantageous defensively and provide some offensive in spurts, without Posada the Yankees lose a protective presence that solidifies the lineup. And while the team's most recent call-up Kevin Russo has shown promise in the minors (.361 OBP), his .763 OPS illustrates that he too will not be the power source that the Yankees' lineup requires, despite his 2-for-3, 2 RBI game in the team's 2-1 win over the Mets on Friday. Succinctly, the Yankees need a hitter and they need one immediately if they hope to keep up with Tampa in the standings.
Everyone can applaud Brian Cashman. He has stuck to his philosophy of responsible economics (on a Yankees' scale), implementing the practice of holding on to the team's top prospects. The Yankees' are populated with players that have moved up through their system including Cano, Derek Jeter, the injured Posada, Gardner, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, David Robertson, and Mariano Rivera (not to mention Cervelli, Miranda, Ramiro Pena, and Nick Johnson and Marcus Thames who both originated as Yankees).
But now is the time to temporarily revert to the "old ways" and bring in a Strawberry/Chili Davis/David Justice-type ringer to provide offense and protection that a player like Juan Miranda simply can't provide. Jermaine Dye seems like the obvious solution — especially given Thames' injury (a fellow righty) — but regardless of what move they make, whether internal or external, without added offensive the Yankees' will be lucky to contend for the Wild Card, forced to rely on an eventual drop-off by the Toronto Blue Jays that may never occur despite the lessons of recent history. Out of all the free agents still available, Dye seems to be the most logical choice and could likely be signed at a discounted rate at this point.
Maybe Cashman will stick to the philosophy that he used to build the 2010 incarnation of the Yankees, relying on players like Cervelli, Moeller, Miranda and possibly Jose' Montero until the starters get healthy. But the likelihood of New York overtaking the Rays with these players included in their daily lineup is unlikely and could result in manager Joe Girardi's second absence from the playoffs with the Yankees. It would be a shame if such a talented skipper were held responsible for the uncanny injury epidemic. Their ability to currently hold the second place position in the AL East is a testament to his resourcefulness and abilities.
It the responsibility of the New York front office and Brian Cashman to provide Girardi with the tools he needs to contend for a championship and at this point most of those tools are broken.