Jorge Posada's critics got what they had clamored for over the last few seasons. The acquisition of Russell Martin meant that the days of watching Posada don the tools of ignorance behind the dish were over.
Posada, the invaluable team leader, and holdover from the glory days of the 90's, had often been criticized for his defensive shortcomings, his lack of mobility behind the plate, a poor throwing arm and what many perceived as predictable game-calling.
To the delight of many of his detractors, the Yankees, in an effort to bridge the gap to the day when one of their top catching prospects is ready to step in, signed former Dodger Russell Martin in the off-season. With Francisco Cervelli primed to serve as the regular back-up, Posada found himself on the outside looking in with only the designated hitter available to him.
That appeared to be a sound plan, as Posada has never had an issue with his offense. His powerful bat from both sides of the plate in addition to his patient approach at the plate, made him one of the better offensive catchers in recent history. Posada was poised to serve as the regular DH, while Joe GIrardi could rotate other veteran players through the position in order to rest his regulars occasionally.
The plan got off to a stellar start, as Jorge hit five home runs and drove in eight runs over his first ten games. His .595 slugging percentage made him a powerful option, but his .189 average and two walks over that same span highlighted a few issues that the home runs had masked.
It would only get worse from there. In Posada's next 15 games, in 58 plate appearances, he hit .140 with a paltry .499 OPS, while striking out 14 times, and looking far more like a liability than a viable designated hitter.
Possibly the most disturbing aspect of Posada's struggles so far is the fact that he is hitless against left-handed pitching. He has always been a slightly more productive hitter from the left side, but in 20 at-bats as a right-handed hitter, he is hitless and has struck out 8 times.
Once again, all the small sample size caveats apply, as he could go 10 for his next 20, rendering any concern meaningless. However, the numbers don't lie, and the appearance has been less than impressive. The quality of his at-bats has not inspired much confidence, and the expectation that they will somehow improve as the season moves on can be classified as wishful thinking.
I'm not ready to write the man off yet; Jorge Posada has been a valuable contributor to the Yankee cause for a decade and half, earning his share of respect from fans of the Bronx Bombers.
However, if this startling lack of production continues, the Yankees simply cannot ignore it in hope that Posada can reverse the hands of time and defy the obvious decline that accompanies the aging process of any athlete. They are already fighting that losing battle with another Yankee legend, shortstop Derek Jeter. The team cannot carry two offensive black holes in their order if they hope to survive the power-laden AL East.
The problem is however, that the Yankees need Posada's production in their lineup. They don't have any obvious options to step in to take his place. Andruw Jones has done a fine job of serving as a platoon outfielder, hitting well against left-handed pitching, but his skills are needed in the outfield, where Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner have both displayed difficulty in consistently hitting against southpaws. Eric Chavez has been a pleasant surprise, but he is a left-handed hitter, so he is clearly not the ideal solution for Posada's woes against lefties.
Toiling in the Yankee minor league system are two potential solutions in Jesus Montero and Jorge Vazquez.
Yankee fans are salivating over the eventual promotion of super-prospect Montero, a young stud that has been compared to Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez, significant praise for a youngster rated as the game's #3 prospect by Baseball America. However, the Yankees are in no rush to promote him, as his defensive skills have lagged behind his bat, making more seasoning necessary before he makes the leap to the big leagues. They still see him as a potential catcher of the future, so bringing him to the Bronx in order to DH would seem to hamper that development.
It is difficult to ignore the fact that he is hitting .373 in Triple-A, but sometimes an organization needs to resist the urge for instant gratification in order to adhere to a vision for the future.
The other option, albeit less sexy, is Mexican minor league journeyman, Jorge Vazquez. At 29, he is not a young prospect on the rise, but in 11 minor league seasons, he has done nothing but hit. In his minor league career, he owns a .943 OPS with 170 home runs and a .316 batting average.
Currently, at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, in 102 plate appearances, he is hitting .302, with nine home runs, 27 RBI and a .906 OPS. Yes, that is only Triple-A, but with a lack of many other options, I don't see the harm in giving Vazquez a shot. Sure, it creates roster issues, as it becomes difficult to carry he and Posada, two men without a position, but with Eric Chavez pulling up lame in today's game in Detroit, depending upon the severity, it could open up the roster spot necessary.
Whether or not the Yankees turn to either option depends upon how long Posada's slide continues. If by Memorial Day, he is still hitting under .200 with few walks and minimal production, the Yankees may be forced into trying other options.
Though the Yankees currently sit in first, they have been sliding, Tampa Bay has been charging toward the division lead, and as much as we hope, Boston is not likely to struggle for much longer. As it is, they are only 3.5 games behind the Yankees anyways, certainly not an insurmountable deficit for a loaded Red Sox team.
The clock is ticking, everyone can hear it. It's now up to Jorge Posada to find a solution, otherwise the Yankees will have no choice but to find one themselves.