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Do You Hear the Song of Angry Baserunners?

I’m not sure if Toronto’s trade for Rajai Davis makes them stronger. As a career .281/.330/.383 hitter, Davis is far from an impact hitter. It seems likely that right fielder Jose Bautista will shift to third base, while Davis will get turns in the outfield with Adam Lind and Travis Snider, who should alternately clomp inelegantly around the corners. For the Yankees, the implications are simple: the deal puts a 40- or 50-stolen base man in the division with them. With Carl Crawford and possibly B.J. Upton on the move, and Jacoby Ellsbury seemingly unlikely to reclaim a regular job with the Red Sox, the Yankees were about to be in a very good position to get through a season with a crew of catchers that don’t throw well.

Don’t get too excited, because while you watch those baserunners steal against the Yankees at an 85 percent clip, remember that there is a tradeoff for playing those guys. Corner outfielders don’t hit .281/.330/.383. They hit more like .281/.350/.450 if you’ve done things correctly. Seven American Leaguers stole over 40 bases this year, but three of them—Davis, Juan Pierre, and Chone Figgins—didn’t put many runs on the scoreboard. Their net stolen bases—39, 50, and 27, respectively—are a drop in the bucket compared to all the outs they made, all the extra-base hits they didn’t have. They benefit the opposition, as being unable to throw them out may cost a run here and there, but being able to retire them at the plate is a major advantage. You lose the odd battle, but win the war.

The real danger to the Yankees of having non-throwing catchers like Jesus Montero and Jorge Posada is not that the Davis and Pierre types will take advantage of them—they run even against the best catchers—but that the only moderately speedy players throughout the years, the opportunistic pests, will run at will, so that every batter to reach base becomes a threat to steal. This has happened to the Red Sox the last few years; Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek can do a lot of great things on the baseball field, but throwing is not one of them.

Even with that handicap, the Red Sox have been quite good, so you don’t want to overstate the impact of all those dancing feet. The reason Martinez and Varitek are winning players is that they put more runs on the board with their bats than they let in with their throwing. The Yankees should be able to say the same about Montero and Posada.