Thursday, December 27, 2012

Yankees' Commitment To Catching Defense Nothing New

(Hey look!  Good defense!  Courtesy of Getty Images)

Some time has passed since the shocker of Russell Martin signing with the Pirates, almost 1 month to be exact.  And in that time, the surprise factor of the move has barely worn off and the calls for the Yankees to make a trade or sign another catcher have continued to pour in from fans and writers alike.  The general consensus is that the underwhelming offensive trio of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, and Austin Romine isn't going to cut the mustard, and there's been little that the Yankee brass has said to change that perception.  Yesterday, Mike Eder of TYA wrote a piece on Romine's defensive skills and the high evaluation he's gotten from Mark Newman on those defensive skills that could signal good things for Romine's future in the organization.

While Newman's comments on Romine might not be surprising coming from someone on the Yankee payroll, they are consistent in terms of the emphasis the organization has put on defense behind the plate in recent years.  And as Mike pointed out, that commitment to defense could have been the deciding factor in letting guys like Martin and A.J. Pierzynski go and sticking with what the Yankees have.  It's frustrating given the team's apparent willingness to take an offensive hit at the position, but if this is the path the Yanks are going to take in 2013, they at least have to be commended for staying consistent in their decision making.

Let's not forget that we're just a few years removed from everybody practically lining up around the block to bitch and moan about how horrible a defensive catcher Jorge Posada was.  He probably stayed behind the plate full time longer than he rightfully should have because of his reputation and status as a member of the team's most recent dynastic glory days.  It was thought that Cervelli would bring some defensive stability to the position, but that turned out to be a bit too aggressive of an assumption.  So the Yankees went out and made a big move to address their defensive catching weaknesses when they signed Martin, who, if we're being fair, hadn't exactly done much with the bat in his final 2 years in LA.  Injuries and rapid offensive decline led to him being non-tendered by the Dodgers, so it's not like the Yankees were banking on getting big production from Martin either.

The logic in bringing in Martin was to upgrade behind the plate defensively, with any offensive bounce back being icing on the cake.  That was the same logic in trading for Stewart before last season, the same logic in trading away Jesus Montero, and the same logic being used now to work Romine into the mix.  I said after the story of Martin signing with Pittsburgh broke that the Yankees must have seen something in Martin's play that influenced their decision to let him walk, despite the fact that he still grades out as a plus run saver and pitch framer, and I still believe that.  It's not like this commitment to good catching defense is something out of the blue, and it's not like it's something that should or will make or break the team.  Truthfully, if the Yankees weren't watching the rest of their high-priced position player deteriorate before their eyes or willfully letting better offensive players than Martin leave via free agency, the loss felt from Martin's departure would probably be minimal.

Would I still prefer the Yankees go out and add a better everyday catching option than they currently have in-house?  Absolutely.  But with the way they've gone about addressing that position since putting Jorge out to pasture, I wouldn't count on that happening.  The Yankees' sole focus is building a strong defensive presence at catcher and that's something they feel like they have right now.  It's understandable for people to still be frustrated by the move, but you have to admit that the Yankees have stayed consistent in their decision making and move making relating to the catcher position recently and there's something to be said for that.  They know more about the strengths and weaknesses of their players than I do, and based on how the Martin move worked out for them I'm willing to let things play out with the catchers they still have.


smurfy said...

Brad, my suspicion is that Russel's back problem in the middle of the season changed their minds about locking him in for multiple years.

His defense was good down the stretch. His ability to snag/block dirtballs was terrific; very little shaking off his signals.

But he was clearly hampered by his back, seen in his hitting doldrums mid-season, when they let out about "lower back stiffness."

Unknown said...

That certainly wouldn't surprise me, Smurfy. And I could understand them shying away from offering Martin a multi-year deal if there were doubts about his health.