The Yankees have a pretty remarkable situation on their hands right now when it comes to the catcher’s position. They currently have a total of four backstops on their 40 man roster, but not one of them is really a viable option to be the team’s starter behind the plate in 2012. Austin Romine may one day become that, but he’s probably not ready to assume everyday duties in the big leagues after missing most of 2012 with a back injury, and of the other three, Francisco Cervelli would probably be the best of the bunch. So…yeah.
Of course, Plan A for the 2013 season is re-signing incumbent starter Russell Martin, which is a pretty reasonable solution to the issue. Martin isn’t going to win any Silver Sluggers anytime soon, but he’s a renowned receiver and capable of hitting well enough behind the plate to be a solidly above average catcher when he’s healthy. If nothing else, he showed this past year that he could maintain his plate discipline and solid batting eye even when he was struggling to hit his weight, at least forcing opposing pitchers to throw strikes to get him out. Given the available alternatives, Martin returning is without question a best case scenario for the Yankee.
On the other hand, Martin is presently a free agent, and that means anything can happen if another team falls in love with him and puts a big offer on the table. That would certainly complicate Plan A for the Yankees, both because of their 2014 budget plans and because Martin’s history of injuries and declining offense make him a bad candidate for a multi-year deal, in my opinion. So what happens if Martin plays elsewhere next season? Well, barring a presently unforeseen addition the Yankees could get some pretty ugly performances from their catchers next year.
One potential alternative is Braves’ backup David Ross, and on Sunday Ken Rosenthal connected Ross with the Yankees. This isn’t a hard rumor that the Yankees are targeting Ross or anything, but Rosenthal notes that the Yankees have a long-standing interest in him, and I think it’s fair to infer that he would be something of a natural target for the Yankees.
Ross, who would be 36 years old on Opening Day, has a fair amount of power in his right-handed bat, but it’s mostly to the pull side. He’s also been an above average hitter in each of the past four seasons, though he hasn’t reached 200 plate appearances in any of them while playing behind Brian McCann in Atlanta. The last time he did that was in 2007, when he put up an abysmal 63 wRC+ in 348 plate appearances for the Reds. In 2006*, however, he hit a robust .255/.353/.579 with 21 home runs in 296 plate appearances, so it’s probably not fair to assume he can’t handle that kind of workload (and obviously this was several years ago, and probably has no bearing on the state of things today).
Now let’s be clear: Russell Martin is very much the most attractive of all the realistic candidates to be the Yankees’ starting catcher in 2013. But if Martin becomes a non-option, Ross may well be the best available Plan B. He’s certainly more talented than anyone the Yankees have on their roster at the moment, and given his age and stature as a backup, he’s not likely to get more than one guaranteed year on the market. It’s not light-your-hear-on-fire stuff by any means, but that sort of thing probably doesn’t really exist at the catcher position, unless you’re willing to bet big money on Mike Napoli bouncing back to his 2011 form.
* Fun story about my own “personal” connection to Ross: Back in 2006 I was something of a good luck charm for the guy in Cincinnati, as he homered in like six or seven consecutive games I attended at Great American Ballpark, including two multi-homer games. That has nothing to do with anything, really, it’s just one of those quirky baseball fandom stories that will probably always stick with me and I’ve always had something of a soft spot for Ross as a result, so I just thought I’d share.