This has been an interesting winter for the Yankees core four of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. A year ago, these four were triumphant, having won their fourth World Series as teammates. The off-season of 2010-2011 has been different. Derek Jeter had a reasonably public spat with the Yankees over his new contract, tested the free agent waters and then resigned with the Yankees for a very generous contract which still represented a pay cut. Andy Pettitte kept the Yankees and the rest of the baseball world waiting before finally deciding to retire, at least for now. Mariano Rivera was believed to be pursued by the Boston Red Sox, which could have led to seeing the great closer playing for the Yankees biggest rival, before resigning with the Yankees for two more years. Jorge Posada, for his part, lost his starting catcher job and is now the team’s designated hitter.
Jeter’s free agency was the biggest of these stories and has been resolved by the Yankees committing to keeping a shortstop in his mid-30s with declining offensive and defensive skills for the next two years. It is possible that Jeter will make a comeback and return to the form of 2009 or earlier years, but it is more likely that he will continue to decline making it tougher for his team to get back to the World Series.
The news and controversy around Jeter has overshadowed the decision to move Posada out from behind the plate and into the DH position, but the latter could have at least as significant impact as well. When Posada was catching and Jeter was at his peak, these two players gave the Yankees great offensive production, although less than stellar position from the two left most positions on the defensive spectrum. This was a great advantage for the Yankees, but one which they will not have in 2011.
Posada hit very well for a catcher. From 1998-2009 he caught at least 99 games a season, except for in 2008 when he was injured for much of the year, and posted an OPS+ of 125. This was of great value to the Yankees as Posada was consistently among the best hitting catchers in baseball. Posada at his peak was clearly a very good hitting catcher, but Posada in his decline phase is inadequate for a DH. If he posts an OPS+ of 116, as he did in 2010, Posada will be somewhere around the league average for a DH, but he will be doing it for a team that will be lucky to get significantly above average production from shortstop and catcher where an aging Jeter and Russell Martin, who is recovering from injury and slumps, are unlikely to be major offensive threats. The Yankees will need more production out of the DH spot because they cannot realistically expect much from Jeter and Martin, but Posada will not provide this.
Jorge Posada is coming to the end of a great career. He is a viable Hall of Fame candidate who will probably just miss getting elected, but he has been an integral part of four World Championship teams, and is perhaps the third greatest catcher in Yankee history. He is also still a potentially valuable player. If Posada caught 30-40 games a year, even with is diminished defensive skills, played first base for 20 games, and was the DH for 80 games or so, he would still be very useful, but as a full time DH he is reducing the roster’s flexibility rather than increasing it without contributing enough with the bat. It looks like the Yankees are going to start the season with essentially a DH emeritus and a shortstop emeritus. That is at least one and probably two emeriti too many.