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Considering the Backup Catcher

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Cervelli has taken many a hit at home plate and has suffered several concussions. Can he be relied upon to successfully back up Russell Martin?
Cervelli has taken many a hit at home plate and has suffered several concussions. Can he be relied upon to successfully back up Russell Martin?

Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, what better position to discuss

The Yankees sacrificed a tremendous asset when they traded Jesus Montero to the Mariners for Michael Pineda, While they acquired an excellent young pitcher in Pineda, they dealt away one of their major league catchers in the process. Montero was projected to back up Russell Martin, but that responsibility now falls to Francisco Cervelli. "Cisco the Kid" had been considered a likely candidate for the major league roster anyway, but Montero's trade now virtually ensures Cervelli of the backup catcher role going into the 2012 season. . Despite fans' frustrations with him, he has been a fairly good backup catcher for the team, as his offense has gradually improved over his three years with the team.

2009: .298/.309/.372, .283 wOBA, 63 wRC+

2010: .271/.359/.335, .315 wOBA, 90 wRC+

2011: .266/.324/.395, .322 wOBA, 97 wRC+

Cervelli brings about league-average offensive to the position, something that is a nice bonus from a catcher. What is disappointing is that Cervelli's defense, which was well-advertised when he was called up from AA in '09, has fallen short of the praise. Although he threw out 43% of baserunners in '09, his Caught Stealing rate has plummeted to 14% in '10 and he repeated that rate in '11. Cervelli will need to work on his defense in Spring Training so that the Yankees don't lose too much when Martin is forced to sit (and after his horrid offensive play post-April last year, he better get his time on the bench).

Cervelli also missed a fair amount of time in 2011 due to concussions, raising questions about his baseball future. If he were to go down with another injury, the Yankees would be in trouble. Since Montero is gone, there does not appear to be any MLB-ready catchers in the minors. There's something to be said for not having a complete give-up at the plate- that's why the Yankees decided to acquire Jose Molina during the '07 season to replace "Woeful" Wil Nieves.

Let's check out the other options after the jump.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, defensive specialist Austin Romine will be AAA Scranton's starting catcher in 2012. He will be entering his age-23 season, and while his defense is considered major-league ready, his offense leaves much to be desired. Even in the offensively depressing air of Trenton, Romine's numbers did not change much from '10 to '11:

2010: .268/.324/.402, .328 wOBA, 99 wRC+, .316 BABIP

2011: .286/.351/.378, .332 wOBA, 103 wRC+, .331 BABIP

So even after a full season in Trenton, Romine had almost identical offensive numbers to his previous year. Not exactly promising numbers. Nevertheless, he was called up to AAA Scranton near the end of the season to take Montero's starting role after Montero's call-up to the majors. One might notice that Romine's numbers in AA don't look much better than Cervelli's major league numbers... and Romine was playing against minor league pitching. During his brief recall to the Yankees at the end of '11, he looked totally lost against MLB pitching, managing only three singles in twenty plate appearances. Although his defense is supposedly quite good, he clearly needs more offensive training. If Cervelli were to go down, Romine would probably be first in line for a recall.

If the Yankees decide that they don't want to disrupt Romine's development though, the only other options appear to be Gus Molina and Jose Gil. Both are non-roster invitees to Spring Training, but both will likely be assigned to Scranton and Trenton, respectively. Gil has played just six games in AAA and none in "the Show," so unless Molina is cut, he probably will not be chosen. He did bat .253/.344/.394 in AA, so he might be ready to back up Romine in AAA if the Yankees don't want Molina. Yankees fans were treated to the Gus Molina experience at the beginning of '11 when Cervelli was injured, and it was not pretty. Joe Girardi never wanted to play him because he was such a poor hitter (only .253/.287/.364 with Scranton in '11 and a jaw-dropping -13 career OPS+ in 51 PAs at the major-league level), and as a result, he played Martin nearly every day in April, which clearly fatigued him. If Cervelli were to go down with an injury and Molina were called up to replace him, fans will just have to hope Girardi realized his errors last year and not run Martin down.

No one wants to see injuries, but catchers are very susceptible to them and Cervelli does not have a good history of staying healthy. Fans are just going to have to pray that he does so and the Yankees are not forced to recall one of these players who are not suitable to play in the majors.