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Archive for November 10th, 2010

Brian Cashman is on his way to Arkansas to meet with Cliff Lee, so he may need a little reading material on the plane. What better time for the third installment of our blueprint series? The first two proposals (click here and here) dealt with bigger names like Carlos Zambrano, Colby Rasmus and Matt Kempt, but teams also need to properly fill in the bottom of the 25-man roster. With that in mind, it’s time to turn an eye toward the Yankees’ unsettled catching position.

The catching tandem of Posada and Cervelli struggled on defense in 2010 (Photo: The Star-Ledger).

With the exception of Derek Jeter’s free agency, no topic in Yankee land has been more widely discussed than the role that Jorge Posada will play in 2011. Adding further intrigue to the story, the New York Times is reporting that Posada will undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. The procedure is considered a minor one, but at age 39, any kind of injury has to be taken seriously. As a result, Brian Cashman has reportedly told Posada to prepare to come into camp as a catcher, but also expect to spend considerable time at DH. What’s more, several sources have also stated that the Yankees have every intention of giving wunderkind Jesus Montero a real shot at winning a significant role on the team. All of that makes perfect sense, and yet, something still seems to be missing in the equation.

In 2010, Posada and Francisco Cervelli nearly split the catching duties down the middle, and in the process became the first pair to record over 300 plate appearances as a catcher in franchise history. Even with Cervelli’s paltry .694 OPS factored in, Yankees’ catchers still finished first in the American League with a wOBA of .339. However, on defense, the tables were completely turned. Not only did the Yankees’ lead all of the majors with 21 errors from behind the plate (Cervelli’s 13 and Posada’s 8 actually led the ballclub), they also ranked dead last in CS%, trailing even the Red Sox abysmal rate of 19.9% by a full five points.

Like Candy from a Baby: Ten Easiest Teams to Steal Against

Team

Inn E SB CS CS%
Yankees 1442.1 21 132 23 14.8%
Red Sox 1456.2 8 169 42 19.9%
Cubs 1436.2 8 114 31 21.4%
Pirates 1411.2 12 116 32 21.6%
Rangers 1455.1 12 116 35 23.2%
Angels 1449.1 17 133 41 23.6%
Brewers 1439 11 100 31 23.7%
Diamondbacks 1432 3 115 36 23.8%
Orioles 1436.1 8 83 27 24.5%
Rays 1453.2 11 89 30 25.2%

Source: fangraphs.com

If you haven’t figured it out yet, one of the Yankees’ greatest weaknesses in 2010 was defense behind the plate. So, how do they go about filling that hole?

Free Agent Acquisition: Miguel Olivo

Jesus Montero is expected to get a chance to go north with the club in 2011.

Unfortunately, the defensive reputation of Montero is not very encouraging. Scouting reports have labeled his skills behind the plate anywhere from awful to acceptable, so his defensive contribution will remain a question mark, to say the least. Fellow prospect Austin Romine, who is also reportedly being considered for a roll in 2011, does enjoy a more flattering defensive reputation, but all signs point to his starting the year in Scranton. So, aside from Montero and Posada, that pretty much leaves Cervelli as the only other option. In others words, unless an acquisition is made, the Yankees shouldn’t expect much defense from behind the plate in 2011.

There is, however, a potential free agent who would fit the Yankees’ need: Miguel Olivo.

The Blue Jays recently acquired Miguel Olivo from the Rockies and then promptly declined his option, deciding instead to offer him arbitration. Because Olivo is a type-B player, the Blue Jays would receive a supplemental pick if he were to sign with another team, which is presumably exactly what Toronto would like him to do. Assuming he doesn’t accept arbitration, Olivo would be free to field offers.

Olivo is a decent bat for a catcher, making up in power for what he lacks in getting on base. In particular, he is a more than competent stick against lefthanders, posting a .284/.318/.503 line in 896 career plate appearances. The Yankees aren’t looking for offense from the position, however. What makes Olivo attractive are his defensive skills, particularly his career caught stealing rate of 35.4%, which ranks just behind Joe Mauer for 12th best among all active catchers.

Active Caught Stealing Percentage Leaders

Rank Player (age) CS%
1 Yadier Molina (27) 46.82
2 Ivan Rodriguez (38) 44.49
3 Henry Blanco (38) 42.93
4 Alberto Castillo (40) 41.46
5 Jose Molina (35) 39.45
6 David Ross (33) 38.55
7 Gerald Laird (30) 37.94
8 Brian Schneider (33) 37.09
9 Mark Johnson (34) 36.61
10 Brandon Inge (33) 36.31
11 Joe Mauer (27) 35.75
12 Miguel Olivo (31) 35.03

Note: Minimum 200 SB attempts
Source: Baseball-reference.com

How He Fits

If the Yankees were able to land Olivo, they could pretty much use him in a 40/40/20 platoon with Montero and Posada. Of course, if Montero

Miguel Olivo could help the Yankees fill in a defensive gap behind the plate (Photo: Getty Images).

blossomed either behind the plate or in the batter’s box, that could be adjusted, but at the very least, the Yankees would have a strong defensive minded backup plan in the event he required more seasoning (or Posada’s injuries prohibited him from catching at all). Also, with three catchers on the roster, the Yankees could more easily pinch hit in high leverage situations, thereby reducing the negative impact of Olivo’s below average bat. In other words, the Yankees could enjoy the best of both worlds by strategically employing Olivo’s defense without enduring too much of a negative impact from his low on base percentage.

At this point, someone is likely to point out that Cervelli’s OPS+ was just a shade below Olivo’s, but with a much higher on base percentage. If only the Yankees could be sure Cervelli would provide above average defense, they might be just fine employing him as a third catcher, especially considering the reduced cost. Unfortunately, however, Cervelli’s defense was so poor (his second half offense was equally bad) that the Yankees can not take that chance. 2011 is going to be a year of transition behind the plate, and there really is no room for a third party who can neither hit nor play defense at an acceptable level.

Money Matter$

There are two potential problems with this plan. The first is Olivo could wind up accepting arbitration. After making $2 million in 2010, he could actually do better by avoiding free agency. Of course, that could ultimately work to the Yankees’ advantage. If the Blue Jays were to get stuck with Olivo at an inflated price, they’d likely be willing to dump him at a discount. Under such a scenario, the Yankees could get their man for less than they would have in free agency.

The second hurdle would be Olivo’s willingness to enter an uncertain situation. Over the last five seasons, he has pretty much settled into the role of an everyday catcher, so being a part-time player might not be an attractive proposition. It remains to be seen if other teams would be willing to promise him more playing time, but if so, the Yankees would probably have to look elsewhere. The only other similar option appears to be Gerald Laird, who although a better defender than Olivo, is much weaker with the bat and would therefore require a more flexible deployment. With few better options readily available, the Yankees can’t let their pursuit of larger fish allow a minnow like Olivo to slip through the net.

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