Buried amid the headlines of Super Bowl Sunday on February 3, 2002, the New York Yankees extended starting catcher Jorge Posada, making him the second-highest paid catcher in baseball at the time, behind only Mike Piazza. Posada had ascended from a shared role with Joe Girardi after the 1999 season, and when Joe Torre tabbed him as the primary starter for 2000 upon Girardi’s departure via free agency, Posada displayed impressive offensive ability, only tempered by struggles on defense.
Posada instantly made the decision a good one. He combined for 50 homers with a 129 OPS+ in the 2000 and 2001 campaigns, earning back-to-back All-Star and Silver Slugger selections, the first honors of his career. So rather than simply agreeing to another one-year arbitration deal after 2001, the Yankees rewarded Posada with a long-term contract that would prove savvy for the level of production that he would provide — especially compared to most catchers.
Contract details: 5-years, $51 million, with a sixth-year option for $12 million
Stats over length of contract (2002-07): 851 G, .283/.388/.489, 187 2B, 133 HR, 130 OPS+, 27.6 fWAR, 3-time All-Star
By signing Posada to this contract before he could hit free agency, the Yankees were able to keep one of their “Core Four” around for the best part of his career. And Posada hit well, period, not hit well “for a catcher.” In 2003, the best year of this contract, Posada had 6.0 total fWAR. That put him ranked 12th in all of baseball, ahead of the likes of Lance Berkman, Manny Ramirez, and Ichiro, and he finished third behind only Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Delgado for AL MVP. Posada was quite simply one of the best players in baseball, playing the most physically demanding position on the field.
As an added bonus, Posada cracked perhaps the biggest hit of his career in 2003, a game-tying double off nemesis Pedro Martinez to knot Game 7 of the ALCS up at five runs apiece after the Yankees trailed entering the eighth:
Aaron Boone won the pennant in the 11th, but the Yankees wouldn’t have made it that far if Posada hadn’t found a way to tie it up.
Through the period of his extension, Posada led all MLB catchers in fWAR, beating out the likes of future Hall of Famers Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez, as well as established rivals, like Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez. And how rare are 6.0 fWAR seasons like Posada’s 2003? The last catcher to finish a season with a total that high was Buster Posey in 2016. It hasn’t been done since then.
The knock on Posada during the 2002-07 was, as always, his lack of defensive skills. He led all catchers in errors in 2002, never really got the hang of framing, and while he had a strong throwing arm, his release and accuracy never kept his caught-stealing totals very high. Nevertheless, Posada’s issues there were not enough to truly sink his WAR ratings, and they wouldn’t push him out of the catcher’s role into after this extension had already expired.
Throughout his extension, Posada was always near the top of the list of Yankees’ contributors. In 2007, the final year, he finished behind only Alex Rodriguez on the team in fWAR, and that A-Rod season was, of course, ridiculous. Perhaps that’s part of why Posada has had somewhat of a lower profile than the other stars of the Yankees dynasty — there were always generational stars that just got more attention and press, like A-Rod and Derek Jeter.
Picking up his option for the 2007 season must have been an easy decision for the Yankees, and Posada rewarded them with a 5.6 fWAR season. He was sensational, batting .338/.426/.543 with a 153 OPS+ in 144 games. Posada had always been a superb hitter, but never to this degree, not even in his vaunted 2003. The only other catcher this century to record an OPS+ that high while appearing in that many games is, once again, Posey.
That surge led to another contract for Posada, which would take him through the end of his career. Unfortunately, he was never quite that successful again, as injuries took their toll. Posada rebounded from a season-ending injury to put up a fine performance in the championship 2009 campaign, but soon after, he became largely limited to the DH role, with some consternation on his part.
The low production of the start and the end of his career likely kept Posada from putting up the numbers that would have made him more than a fringe Hall of Fame candidate (though he definitely has his supporters). Still, Posada’s production during this contract are what made him a beloved Yankee with a retired number. You simply don’t often see catchers who can hit like he did for a long period of time anymore.