Wednesday, January 25, 2006

25th Man

I’m kinda torn right now. The first bit of news I read Tuesday morning (courtesy of the sidebar here at the Sporting Brews) hinted at the possibility of Mike Piazza ending up as the Yankees DH/sometimes catcher for the 2006 season. This was reported by Newsday, and immediately debunked by The Daily News’s Bill Madden. Suffice it to say I don’t take much stock in what either has to say.

The safe road is to say it won’t happen and move on. The odds on Piazza making a return to New York in pinstripes are somewhere around 15 to 1. The Yankees already have a backup catcher and two guys slated to eat up time at DH – Bernie and Andy Phillips – so there is little roster space for Piazza. Brian Cashman’s philosophy of roster flexibility doesn’t lend itself well to Piazza’s case either, since he’d be available mainly as a DH, though he could certainly catch once or twice a week.

However, this situation may transcend the issue of roster flexibility. Phillips will likely (i.e. in my opinion) be a liability at the plate this year, negating his value as a DH. He’ll see his playing time as a backup to Jason Giambi at first, but not much more. There are issues with Bernie as well, as it’s not a given that he’ll put up adequate numbers as strictly a hitter. Adding Piazza could solve the DH problem right away.

The most likely scenario would be Bernie and Piazza splitting DH, with Jorge catching the majority of the games. He would get every fifth day off for Randy’s start, in which Stinnett would be behind the plate. But with Piazza, the Yankees would have the flexibility to give Jorge a second day off per week, meaning less wear and tear from donning the tools of ignorance.

The bottom line: catching platoons benefit all involved. Other than pitcher, catcher is the most physically taxing position on the diamond. Since a catcher is physically strained on defense, his production on offense will inevitably regress since he’s not able to focus as much on hitting as an outfielder would. Instead of being behind the plate for 130 games per year, Posada would only be needed for roughly 100, thus reducing his defensive taxation by 23 percent. The level of direct benefit to his offensive game is obviously an unknown, but a factor nonetheless.

Piazza would also provide an insurance policy should Jorge succumb to a mid-season injury. Piazza is past his prime, but he still ranked eighth among MLB catchers in Value Over Replacement Player. He ranked in the middle of the pack (15th) in OBP (.326) for a catcher, and sixth in slugging percentage (.452), so he can still provide adequacy at the position. He may not be the top option for a team, but I’d rather have him behind the plate for 120 games than John Buck.

What’s tearing at me is that Piazza does not solve the outfield problem the Yankees are currently facing. Signing Piazza eats up another spot on the roster, leaving one less for an additional green grass patroller, someone who could spell Sheffield and give him time at DH. That’s another issue in itself: with Piazza, Sheffield would be starting 150 some-odd games in right field. It’s not the worst scenario, but surely the Yanks would like to get a better glove out there from time to time.

The ideal situation, as stated several times in this here space, would be to carry 14 position players and 11 pitchers, the Yankees have a habit of carrying that 12th pitcher. Randy, Moose, Pavano, Wang, Chacon, Wright, Sturtze, Villone, Farnsworth, Myers, and Mo make 11, so we’ll go with this for now. That would leave the position player slots to Posada, Stinnett, Giambi, Phillips, Cano, Cairo, Jeter, A-Rod, Matsui, Damon, Sheffield, Bernie, and Crosby. That leaves one spot on the 25-man roster, which usually would be spent on a second utility infielder – or in the Yankees case, a 12th pitcher.

So we’ve whittled it down to a simple question: to whom would you rather fork up the 25th roster spot, Piazza or Scott Proctor?

I hate getting worked up about rumors like this because there is such a slim chance anything will evolve from it. But adding Piazza poses a scenario that Cashman and Co. can’t immediately discard. I realize Bill Madden has been doing this job for well longer than I’ve been alive, but he may have jumped the gun on this one.