Sports news bulletins rang throughout the country yesterday with a pair of shocking (but not really) roster moves - Aaron Hernandez was released by the New England Patriots and Mark Teixeira will miss the rest of the season following wrist surgery. I feel sorry for exactly one of these two pro athletes: Can you guess which?
There will be much contemplating, blame laying, and trade fantasizing over the next few days, but one of the more immediate concerns is what to do with Teixeira's spot on the 40-man roster.
Now, I must admit, the moment I read about Teixeira's surgery I heard a choir of angels overhead singing: Jaaaaay-R Mur-phy! Jaaaaay-R Mur-phy! He's a catcher! And he can hit! Much better than Stew!
One of the positive aspects of Teixeira's injury (that isn't really positive at all) is that the entire lineup is laden with so much rancid crap that the Yankees could conceivably find improvement at any number of positions. And JR Murphy might just be the candidate – he has a combined .279/.365/.446 split in 49 Double-A games and 11 Triple-A games thus far, and has improved since jumping to Triple-A, albeit in a small sample. He would almost certainly hit better than Austin Romine, if only because it's nearly impossible to hit worse than Austin Romine.
Before the Yankees put Murphy on the 40-man, though, they should first try to answer these three questions:
1. Do they believe in Murphy as a prospect?
2. Do they still believe in Romine as a prospect?
3. Would Joe Girardi actually give Murphy a shot to supplant Chris Stewart?
Each of these questions relates to the other. Murphy is now the number two catcher in the Yankees system, still far behind Gary Sanchez in terms of prospect status, but much closer to the bigs. If they believe Murphy to be a true big league prospect and essential to the team in the next few years, then his development should take precedence. Conversely, if they believe Romine (who was probably the more highly-regarded prospect in his prime) is still a better bet going forward, then his development should take precedence. What's really fascinating in all this is that the more highly-regarded prospect should probably be the one who stays down in Triple-A to get regular reps at catcher.
The Wild Card in this ménage à catcher is Joe Girardi and his doomed obsession with Stewart. I know I'm too hard on Stew, but the guy is simply not a big-league-cailber starting catcher, and there's no way he should be in the team's plans for the future. It's clear now that he is a better option than Romine, but is he a better option than Murphy? If a prospect-journeyman competition is even close, then the prospect should usually win out, but we all know hell hath no fury like a former defensive catcher manager scorned. I have very little confidence that Girardi would let Murphy take the starting catcher job, no matter how well he plays.
The Yankees are still in the thick of the playoff race, so there's no reason to make roster moves solely based on the future. At the same time, very few position players have played well enough to discourage a little minor league competition. With players like Murphy, Romine and Stewart, the front office must find a way to balance the precarious present with the equally-precarious future.