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Montero: Destiny Takes a Hand

So it has been written, so shall it be done. Francisco Cervelli has fractured his foot and will be out at least four weeks, possibly longer with the inevitable rehab stint. The reserve catcher spot is now open to Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, or, Yogi forfend, Gustavo Molina, a career .235/.295/.348 hitter in the minor leagues, .211/.258/.333 at Triple-A.

Jesus Montero: If his defense is livable, there is no reason not to play him in front of Martin. (AP)

Romine remains a good prospect, but he’s still a very raw hitter, even giving him credit for playing at Trenton last year. There are players who showed such proficiency at Double-A that I would feel comfortable saying, "Triple-A, schmiple-A" and giving them a chance to make the big-league club. Romine is not one of them, not with 37 walks in nearly 500 plate appearances and a defensive reputation that is as variable, in its own way, as Montero’s. By that I mean that with Montero, people argue as to whether he will be a catcher or not. Romine is definitely a catcher, but you hear a lot of differing opinions on whether he will be a good one or not.

Despite past fondness for such non-hitting types as Kevin Cash, I have a hard time believing that even the Yankees are so veteran-crazy that they would opt for Molina, who, whatever his defensive abilities, cannot do the major-league hitting thing. Since the Yankees have apparently no interest in letting Jorge Posada catch during the remainder of his natural life, the cheese stands alone, by which I mean Cheddar Montero.

Now the focus has to return to Montero’s defense, because if he’s going to be on the roster to catch, then, well, he’s got to be able to catch. And further, if he can catch, then he has to play. Think about it: Russell Martin is not part of the team’s future. He may not be part of anyone’s future. Never a great defensive catcher despite his Gold Glove, Martin played his way out of Los Angeles with two virtually identical seasons of miserable hitting in which the only thing he did well was take the odd walk (and 16 of those were intentional). The result, .249/.350/.330 with 12 home runs in 975 plate appearances, is like something out of the post-peak Jason Kendall catalogue.

There can be very little doubt that Montero would out-hit Martin of given the playing time. That’s the whole point of Montero, so if he’s on the roster, the Yankees might as well benefit from having him. If Montero is in the majors, letting him watch while Martin catches five days a week will serve little purpose. If they must, the Yankees can start him, then sub late for defense, something that Joe Girardi has been adept at doing with starting Cervelli in playoff games and then pulling him for Posada after his designated pitcher has gone, or yanking Marcus Thames last year after three PAs. There is very little risk in doing that, especially if they are willing to consider Posada the emergency catcher for those rare days that both Montero and Martin need to be replaced in-game.

The logic that I’m pursuing here is simple: if Montero can catch well enough to make the roster as the reserve catcher, then he is good enough to catch. If he’s good enough to catch, then he is good enough to play, because his bat is superior to that of the man he will be playing behind. Maybe that doesn’t mean he plays six games to Martin’s one, or five to his two; maybe it’s four to his three, with those three coming against teams that emphasize running.

The thought behind signing Martin was that he would keep the seat warm for Montero. With Cervelli’s injury, perhaps the seat doesn’t need warming, even if the timetable is not what the Yankees would have chosen. If that plan is out the window, then so is the intended usage of Martin with it. If Montero is here, let him be here all the way. Short of an unlikely return to his 2007 level of production, Martin has no upside, so the Yankees have everything to gain and nothing to lose.