Difficult as it may be for everyone involved, this is a dynamic that’s going to have to come to an end one way or another sooner rather than later. It would be one thing if Posada were a little bit younger and an effective defensive catcher, but he was never really that at any point in his career, let alone now. As someone who doesn’t do anything but DH, and now doesn’t even do that against southpaws, he’s simply not providing any value to the team if he’s not hitting. In fact, he’s actually hurting the team with a -0.6 fWAR through the first 54 games of the season.
Unfortunately, June has historically been Posada’s worst month at the plate. With a .256/.380/.431 line in the month for his career it’s not as though Posada has been downright awful by any means, but it’s easily the worst month for him in terms of batting average and slugging percentage, the two areas of his triple-slash with which he’s struggling so much this year. If you thought things got testy in the middle of last month, you might want to prepare to brace yourselves in a few weeks, because things could get even uglier. And if they do, I suspect everyone won’t be apologizing and chalking it up to emotions the next day.
Also hanging over Posada’s head is the fact that Super Two season is almost upon us, and for the Yankees that means plenty of eyes will be trained on Jesus Montero, especially if Posada continues to struggle at the plate. Montero has had an up and down season at AAA this year and is currently hitting just .302/.337/.429, but he’s still the uber-prospect with the universally praised bat who hit .289/.353/517 as a 20 year old after struggling early then as well. And most people who have watched him, and Keith Law, seem to think Montero’s struggles are more a result of him pressing at the plate after losing out on a big league spot in the Spring, rather than a regression in ability.
Calling Montero up isn’t a slam-dunk move of course, and I’m not even confident the Yankees are going to do that in 2011. For one thing, expecting him to come up and hit like an all-star is unrealistic. He’s still 21 years old and will have to adjust to major league pitching, so there will almost certainly be growing pains. On the other hand, that’s going to be true no matter when he comes up, and oddly, Posada’s struggles might actually mitigate this as a problem, because it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that a struggling Montero would still hit better than Posada has so far.
The other concern would be the affect on his defense behind the plate, and on that point I’m mostly at a loss at this point. The Yankees still seem intent on making him a catcher, and there are some people who are still optimistic about that, but for all of them there’s someone else who’s equally pessimistic about it. What’s more, the sides don’t really seem to be changing much. The bulls still say that he could potentially be an adequate catcher at some point, while the bears say he’s terrible, slow, clumsy behind the plate, etc. Meanwhile, everyone agrees that he can hit.
I don’t watch Montero on a regular basis, so I won’t deign to pass judgment on his defense, but I do think the Yankees should remember that it’s his potential offensive ability that makes Montero an elite prospect, not his status as a catcher. Yes, the ability to catch adds some marginal value to him, but it’s not like anyone thinks he’s going to be a good catcher. Even the most bullish observer of his defense agrees that, at most, Montero will be an adequate catcher at the big league level, which, to me, doesn’t justify holding his bat back to work on.
If Posada continues to struggle in the next few weeks and Montero doesn’t flat-line in Scranton, it’ll be time to pass the torch, even if it means Montero has to be primarily work as a DH. The Yankees need to worry the most about Montero’s development as a hitter, because if he hits like everyone thinks he can he’ll be valuable no matter where he plays, especially since he’ll basically be making the league minimum over his first 3+ years in the majors. And considering the paltry production the Yankees have gotten out of the DH spot this season, there’s no reason this can’t be a win-win move in the short term and the long term.