Replacing the "Dis-qualified": Russell Martin
If you look solely at his batting average, then Russell Martin struggled mightily in 2012. He was below the “Mendoza line” for a good chunk of the season, and even a strong final five weeks only brought him up to a final mark of .211.
Beyond that, however, Martin did hit a career-high 21 homers – seven of which came in that torrid September, and a few more of which came in key situations throughout the year – and handled the pitching staff with aplomb in his second year in the Bronx.
It’s widely thought that Martin will be back in the fold in 2013, but what if that second year was his last? After all, the Yankees have a wealth of catching prospects (led by Austin Romine) in the Minor Leagues, a handful of Major League-quality backups (including Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, and now Eli Whiteside) on the 40-man roster, and a desire to keep payroll down below $189 million after next year, so they may choose to go in another direction while they have the option.
But with the free agent catching pool rather shallow, who could replace Martin? Mike Napoli and A.J. Pierzynski are the cream of the free agent crop, but will command longer and more expensive contracts than Martin, and the rest of the group are veterans who would likely be best served in a time share or backup role…but for the Yankees, that might be ideal.
Taking all of the above concerns into consideration, what you’ll find below is a list of potential replacements that fit into the mold the Yankees might be looking for if they don’t retain Martin: veterans who still have some offensive pop and could be cost-effective on a one-year (or even two-year) deal.
Candidate No. 1: Miguel Olivo
Much like Martin, Olivo’s numbers (.222-12-29 in 323 at-bats for Seattle) suggest that he had a down year in 2012…but he’s just a year removed from being the Mariners’ everyday catcher, and in 2011 he hit 19 homers while playing 130 games. He’ll be 35 next July, and would be a fit as either a veteran mentor to a guy like Romine or as a 65-35 type of platoon player with someone like Cervelli or Stewart.
Candidate No. 2: Yorvit Torrealba
Like Olivo, Torrealba is just a year removed from being an everyday catcher; in his case, he was Texas’ top backstop in 2011, but was replaced by Napoli and eventually released in August. So, like Olivo, his 2012 numbers (.227-4-14 in 218 AB) are down, but Torrealba did hit .273 in 113 games for the Rangers in 2011, is excellent defensively (throwing out 37 and 33 percent of potential base stealers in 2010 and 2011, respectively), and, despite being 34 going on 35, isn’t yet “too old” to be an everyday guy.
Candidate No. 3: Rod Barajas
Barajas has bounced around a bit the last few years, and put up a .206-11-31 line in 104 games for Pittsburgh last season. But, like the above candidates, he does have offensive merit – in his case, a power bat that has averaged 15 homers a year since 2008 – and a caught stealing rate of 28 percent for his career (even if it was only 6 percent in 2012). At 37, Barajas would likely be more of an option in a mentor/backup role to someone like Romine, but he would fill that role very capably.
Wild Card Candidates: AJ Pierzynski or Mike Napoli
There are nearly a dozen more candidates like the three above, but everything said above could be thrown out the window if one of the top two in the class come available under the right terms. Coming off a .278-27-77 season that saw him win the Silver Slugger, Pierzynski could be costly – but at 35, he might not be that long-term of a commitment, and would likely be willing to serve as the DH 15-20 times a season to preserve himself. As for Napoli, he’s likely looking for one big-money, long-term deal, but the now-31-year-old struggled with a nagging quad injury in 2012 and regressed a little as a pure hitter (.227-24-56 vs. 320-30-75 in 2011), so it could benefit him to seek a short-term deal in hopes of a “return to form” – and thus, a bigger contract next winter.
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