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Making glove out of nothing at all

As I wrote yesterday, Jorge Posada’s lack of mobility is going to be an issue all season long. That doesn’t mean it’s going to hurt the Yankees the way it did in Game No. 1, and arguably the bigger problem was Chan Ho Park anyway. Nonetheless, judging by Buster Olney’s latest, Posada has already been identified as Yankees’ enemy No. 1:

Last year, we saw that Posada's struggles to catch the ball eventually became part of the reason Jose Molina was in the lineup as the catcher for A.J. Burnett. We will see, in the days ahead, how Posada's ability to catch impacts the ways Joe Girardi sets his lineup. Francisco Cervelli, Posada's backup, is viewed as a strong defensive catcher, and Girardi -- a former catcher -- will recognize, before others, all the value in a strong defensive catcher.

Girardi could reduce Posada's starts behind the plate and give him more games at designated hitter, perhaps starting him at DH against some left-handed pitchers (he could have that option, for example, on Tuesday, when Jon Lester starts for the Red Sox); Posada still hammers left-handed pitchers, as his splits from last year show. Or Girardi could simply use Cervelli in more games than originally planned.

Or Posada may continue to be an every-day catcher. He was good enough last year to play the position for a team that won the World Series, and time will tell if he can be again in 2010.

Bob Klapisch wrote a similar piece:

The Yankees could’ve conceivably kept Johnny Damon around, letting him share the DH spot with Posada while turning the catching duties over to Jose Molina. But the difficulties with Damon and his agent Scott Boras nuked that scenario, and when Nick Johnson was signed to a one-year deal, the Yankees handed the keys to the everyday catching job back to Posada.

The team’s hierarchy has no illusions about Posada’s reflexes. He looks uncomfortable, almost handcuffed at times. One talent evaluator said this spring, "There’s nothing wrong with [Posada’s] hand-eye coordination, because he’s still quick enough to catch up to a fastball." So how does this explain Posada’s difficulty with pitches out of the strike zone?

The problem in both cases—giving Cervelli more playing time or the hypothetical retention of Jose Molina—is that the offensive fall-off from Posada is severe. Taking Posada out of the lineup and/or moving him to DH is going to mean inserting a replacement-level hitter in the lineup. That’s what Molina was and what Cervelli is. There is just no evidence right now that Cervelli is better than that. He hit .271/.366/.378 in the minors and .283/.294/.354 in his 106 Major League PAs. The batting average is respectable, but the lack of punch of plate discipline—the lad has taken just two walks—is unlikely to improve. Nick Johnson isn’t Lou Gehrig, but if you’re going to pull his bat for Cevelli’s (the upshot of letting Posada DH more often), you’re talking about something like a four-win swing to the negative in the standings, even with the theoretical defensive benefits included.

Now, that is not to say that this is completely a choice on the part of Girardi, Cashman, and pals. At some point, Posada will be physically unable to catch. Has that moment come? We don’t know yet, and it’s not an evaluation to be made lightly, because unless Jesus Montero or Austin Romine take sudden and spectacular leaps up the evolutionary ladder, the Yankees cannot afford to pay the offensive price of making a change, not in a division that promises to be the most hotly contested in baseball. As frustrating as Posada’s defensive failings may be, you don’t want the Yankees to make a change unless they really have to.

Offense and defense are not a zero-sum game. As long as Posada hits at a high level, the price of the wild pitches/passed balls is going to be less than that of his lost offense. Cervelli’s out at the plate, his low on-base percentage, will hurt more than his superb mobility benefits the team—for now.

Brett Gardner sits tonight for Marcus Thames, at least for three plate appearances, after which you can bet he’ll be in to run or play defense or both. If you’re worried about defense, we’ll see how well Thames plays balls off of the Green Monster. Coffee Joe forever!

• Mark Buehrle (seven shutout innings) is a four-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, and routinely posts adjusted ERAs 20 percent below the league average, and with health he should finish his career with over 200 wins. He has won more than 16 games just once in his career, so our single-minded focus on the wins "statistic" means our memory of him will stop when his career does… Pity Jake Westbrook, coming off of surgery, who seemed to lose all sense of location in the game, issuing four walks in four innings and also throwing four wild pitches. I still think of old Jake as a missed opportunity for the Yankees, but you can’t say that the 2000 David Justice deal didn’t have a huge, positive impact on a championship team, so you can only have so much regret about the move.

• Inspirational comeback start by Jays’ Shawn Marcum derailed by Arlington park effects (see Nelson Cruz’s off-balance three-run homer), impotence of the bottom half of the order. Lather, rinse, repeat for 161 more games.

• Another strong Zack Greinke start wasted by Royals’ bullpen. Lather, rinse… Oh, you know. "It wasn’t fun to watch," Greinke said after the game. Johnny Damon went 2-for-5 with a double, two RBI, two runs scored, so he definitely had a better opening day than Chan Ho Park. Yes, that’s unfair, and no, I don’t care.

• Hideki Matsui went 2-for-4 with a home run off of Jose Mijares, going back to back with Kendry Morales. He too had a better opening day than... the Royals’ bullpen, and we’ll leave the other guy out of it. Brandon Wood went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, so given how the Angels have treated him in the past, his job is probably already in danger.

• Mariners-A’s was tough to watch, with the two teams combining for five errors and 15 walks and the Mariners running into outs on the bases. It was encouraging to see Ken Griffey, Jr. pull a double. I’m starting to feel sentimental about that guy.

• The last thing a struggling franchise needs is to be decapitated in front of 41,000 fans on Opening Day, but that’s what happened to the Nationals. You don’t want to assume that Roy Halladay is going to romp in the National League based on one start, but… Roy Halladay is going to romp in the National League.

• The Mets got their one day in the sun. They don’t have a second Santana. Move on.

• Small matter given a crushing Reds loss, but I’m still not sure why Drew Stubbs is sitting for Chris Dickerson. Dusty Baker needs an oracle or a prophet or something to explain his otherworldly thinking to the rest of us. Again, one shouldn’t get carried away by one game, but the Cardinals are all alone in the NL Central.

• Joe Torre picks Vicente Padilla as his Opening Day loser. What a strange, strange call by an increasingly strange manager. There is no sin in growing old and out of touch—it happens to most of us—but it’s sure tough to watch... Congratulations to Garrett Jones (2-for-4, two home runs) for not being Kevin Maas, not yet.

• Nothing ruins a Leo Kottke album like singing.

• I don’t imagine that the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez will go 4-for-5 with a home run too many more times this season… Good to see Jim Edmonds, who already has a pretty good case for the Hall of Fame, make it back for a few more swings at 40. I don’t know if he can make 118 hits and 18 home runs, but if he does, that would give him an even 2000 hits and 400 home runs, rare territory for a center fielder, especially one with eight Gold Gloves.

• With Jason Heyward, Braves fans are getting to enjoy the same thrill that Yankees fans did when Derek Jeter came along. Cubs fans don’t know what that’s like, but trust me, it feels good.

• Padres: Depressing when Jon Garland is your Opening Day starter, isn’t it? At least A-Gonz and Kyle Blanks homered. That’s the hook, the only hook, for this season… It wouldn’t be April if the LaRoche brothers didn’t go hitless.

• It doesn’t matter how quickly Lance Berkman comes back; the Astros are going to lose 100 games.