Baseball

May 11, 2008

Caught Short
How devastating is the loss of Jorge Posada to the Yankees? Just ask the RedSox how valuable a catcher is

THE YANKEES'prized young pitchers, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, have been badly battered,and both are gone from the rotation a month into the season. The team's bestplayer, Alex Rodriguez, is limping around the clubhouse with a strained rightquadriceps and will not return for another couple of weeks. The Yankees arehurting—but nothing threatens New York's streak of 13 straight postseasonappearances more than a prolonged absence by catcher Jorge Posada.

On April 28 theYankees took the field against the Indians without Posada in uniform, and otherthan a five-game suspension he served in 2001, it was the first time theYankees had been without their catcher since Sept. 1, 1996. "A real weird,strange day, not having Jorgie around," says New York shortstop DerekJeter. "For so long he's been our glue." On the Yankees, Posada isoften overlooked, but his value to the team might never be more apparent thanover the next six weeks as he recovers from inflammation in his right rotatorcuff. Not only is the remarkably durable 36-year-old a potent hitter, but healso, as Yankees manager Joe Girardi says, "offers our young pitchers somuch invaluable guidance."

The Yankees needonly look to their AL East rival to see how the loss of a veteran All-Starcatcher can devastate a club. "On our Red Sox teams Jason Varitek wasindispensable," says Yankees leftfielder Johnny Damon. "Just look whathappened to the team in '06 with 'Tek injured." That year Boston droppednine games in the standings during Varitek's four-week absence with a kneeinjury. In 2001 Boston was in first place on June 7 when Varitek went down witha season-ending elbow injury; the Red Sox finished 13 1/2 games behind theYankees. At a college lecture last January, Yankees general manager BrianCashman was asked to name the player he'd most like to remove from the Red Soxroster. He chose Varitek.

An imbalance ofsupply and demand at the position makes it impossible for the Yankees to find aviable replacement for Posada outside the organization. His backup, JoseMolina, is adequate defensively but is not nearly Posada's equal with thebat.

The Yankees,though, are desperate for stability at the position. Hughes pitched to fourcatchers in his first six starts and was 0--4 with a 9.00 ERA. (The righthanderis now out until perhaps July with a broken rib.) Kennedy worked with threecatchers in his five starts and was 0--2 with an 8.37 ERA before being sentdown to the minors over the weekend.

Before his injuryPosada was one of four active position players with 10 years of major leagueservice and no time spent on the disabled list. His durability was a big reasonwhy the Yankees signed him to a four-year, $52 million contract last November."Even given his age and this injury, I still say that was a very goodcontract," says an AL general manager. "Besides A-Rod, Posada may bethe most valuable Yankee."

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Better Than Squat

Young, quality catchers are in short supply, but hereare three promising ones to watch.

GEOVANY SOTO, 25, Cubs
Leads all major league catchers in OPS (1.044) and RBIs (23). Also deservescredit for his work with ace Carlos Zambrano.

JEFF CLEMENT, 24, Mariners
Owns the national high school homer record and was hitting .397 at Triple Awhen he was called up last week to get at bats at DH and split time behind theplate.

MATT WEITERS, 21, Orioles
Leads the Carolina League in average (.341) and was second in homers (5). TheOrioles' top pick in '07 (above) should make his Camden Yards debut inSeptember.

PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIER (POSADA)BYE JORGIE Molina (inset) is decent defensively, but he's no Posada at the plate. PHOTOMITCH STRINGER/CSM (MOLINA)[See caption above] PHOTOJOY R. ABSALON/CAL SPORT MEDIA (WEITERS)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)