Yanks Need Posada or a Miracle

Jorge Posada’s mysterious shoulder injury has not yet healed to the point that he can resume his duties as everyday catcher for the New York Yankees.

“He won’t throw today,” New York manager Joe Girardi said prior to Sunday’s game against Baltimore. “We’ll check again on Tuesday—see how he is and see if the arm is back to full strength.”

On a team that looks like it will have to rely on its offense even more than last season, the Yankees need Posada behind the plate—he is the one irreplaceable part in New York’s lineup. That Posada is 36, plays the most demanding defensive position, and has no credible backup does not bode well for the Yankees.

It was this very calculation that led New York to sign Posada this past offseason to a four-year deal—an unheard-of commitment to a catcher of Posada’s advanced age.

But the combination of Posada’s offensive contributions and his durability (not to mention loud rumblings of interest from the cross-town Mets) forced the Yankees to choose: Posada, or a severe downgrade at the position.

Posada was unlikely to repeat his 2007 season, when he posted a line of .338/.426/.543. But his career on-base plus slugging line of .277/.380/.479 is 124, or 24 percent above league average—and just eight catchers reached league average in OPS+ during the 2007 season.

For a sense of the scarcity at the position, the Mets needed to deal Lastings Milledge just to go pick up Brian Schneider—career OPS+ 82, or 18 percent below league average. And the best free-agent alternative, had the Yankees not signed Posada, was Yorvit Torrealba—career OPS+ of 80.

“It is not, generally, a position where you find teams have a lot of depth,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman told the Staten Island Advance Wednesday.

That is certainly true for the Yankees, whose backup, Jose Molina, sports a career OPS+ of 66, or 34 percent below league average. Of course, Molina also injured his hamstring Sunday night, leaving his availability uncertain.

That leaves Chad Moeller, career OPS+ 62, as the last catcher standing–for now. With Posada’s bat still valuable, the Yankees are reluctant to put him on the disabled list—instead, they have used him as a part-time designated hitter.

But this Yankee team hardly needs another part-time DH—Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, Shelley Duncan and Johnny Damon all would best be served in that role as well. The Yankees need another catcher.

New York is not used to such a need–Posada has provided a luxury at the position. He is one of only six active players to have played at least ten seasons without a trip to the disabled list in his career. Considering that he’s caught 1,364 games during that time, avoiding such an injury is an astounding feat.

He’s played through hamstring issues, thumb issues, and plenty of injuries that never even saw their way into print. But this shoulder issue is different. If you can’t throw, you can’t be a catcher—as displayed on April 13 against the Red Sox. Molina’s injury forced Posada into the game as emergency catcher, with instructions not to throw. The Sox promptly stole two bases on him.

The Yankees have managed all these years without a legitimate second option at catcher due to Posada’s durability. In fact, the last time the Yankees had someone ready to step in for Posada, it was a familiar name: current manager Joe Girardi.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and if Posada can’t catch, the only player who might potentially replicate his offense is the still-unsigned Mike Piazza. While he is 39, and coming off of a down year with Oakland, Piazza is just a season removed from a 122 OPS+ in 99 games of catching for San Diego. He has also been praised for his handling of young pitchers—though his throwing prowess is likely little better than Posada’s at this point.

Other than that, it’s time for the Yankees to pray for Jorge. Because without him, the offense that scored 968 runs last season just isn’t the same.

Yanks Need Posada or a Miracle