Jorge Posada is like ER.
ER lasted 15 seasons and was a cultural phenomenon, with George Clooney, Noah Wyle, Goose from Top Gun, Juliana Margolis, and a cavalcade of other stars that rotated in and out of the medical drama. It became the medical drama all other medical dramas would be compared to and an underrated television classic. But in the end, it was recycling old plots and ripping stories from the headlines and generally became unwatchable.
I’m not talking about last night’s alleged hissy fit about batting ninth. First, it’s plausible that Posada actually was hurt. It’s also very possible that Posada backed out of the game knowing that, in his mental and physical states, he was not likely to help the club at all. I’m willing to give the guy with the strong track record both on the field and off the benefit of the doubt, and can even understand if he needed a day to get his head right in what has been an incredibly difficult season for him. Players, after all, are not robots. While it’s tempting to scold him because he makes $13 million to play baseball, I know there have been stressful times in my life where I’ve needed to just leave and collect my thoughts, to calm down and to get right, before I got back to work. I don’t believe in holding a ballplayer to a higher standard than I hold myself simply because of his paycheck.
No, what is more troubling about Posada is how terrible he’s become. Jorge’s line drive percentage is down to just 11.4%. His grounders and infield popups are up. He simply is not making good contact. He’s had just five extra base hits in his last 28 games and has simply looked hideous at the plate. This is the end, and it is not pretty.
But the rest of his career is well worth celebrating. He will go down as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, currently ranking 12th among catchers in career WAR, and a crucial part of 4 World Champions, and 6 AL champs. He was never really seen as the best catcher in baseball, while he was competing with guys like Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez, and Joe Mauer, but he was consistently excellent.
Frankly, the Yankees would be well served simply to move on at this point. Even if there’s some regression, Posada simply doesn’t look capable anymore of providing enough offense to carry the DH spot. For his fifteen years in Pinstripes, Jorge deserves a farewell tour, and a roster spot. But the Yankees should be limiting his at bats. When he’s healthy, allow Eric Chavez to take over DHing against RHP, at least until Jesus Montero is deemed ready or the Yanks acquire a big bat from somewhere else to handle it full time.
Joe Mauer is like The Man Without a Country
Classic short story. You should read it. It tells the story of Philip Nolan, an American Lieutenant in the early 19th century, who joins Aaron Burr’s infamous attempt to kick the Spanish out of Mexico and claim the country for himself. On trial for treason, Nolan condemns the United States and tells the judge, “I wish I may never hear of the United States again!” The judge grants his wish, sentencing him to spend the rest of his life on US warships and ordering all of his shipmates never to speak to him of the US. Even his books and newspapers are censored. It was a powerful allegory to promote patriotism and the Union, written during US Civil War, as Nolan eventually regrets his rashness and betrayal.
Like Nolan, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Joe Mauer simply cannot go back to catching. This must be eliminated as an option and the Twins should simply stop talking about it as a possibility. He’s just too big and too fragile. As Keith Law has explained, his big frame and long legs puts additional pressure on his knees, far more than a normally sized catcher. Think of his knees as a fulcrum, and given his size, there is simply more pressure (his weight) exerted further back along the lever (his upper legs). It puts tremendous strain on that fulcrum. Plus, in order to provide a proper target, he must scrunch his back more than other catchers on every pitch. Not coincidently, the vast majority of his injury problems involve his legs and his back.
Wherever he plays, Mauer’s bat is still going to be valuable. DH, 1B, 3B, and the corner outfield are definite possibilities, especially as the Twins jettison Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and Jim Thome this offseason. His ability to draw walks and hit for high average will definitely play at any of those spots, provided he can stick defensively. If he’s able to play an OF corner, he could at least become a much taller Tony Gwynn. At 3B or DH, he could be a left-handed Paul Molitor. And at 1B, he would at least match John Olerud offensively. And perhaps the reduced wear and tear would help his overall power.
The Twins and Mauer both need to move past the thoughts of his returning to his old spot, even though it costs him some of his value. The probability of having him available for 140 games is simply preferable to the prospet of losing him for a quarter of the season or more every year. Time to set Joe adrift, since he’ll be more useful outside his original home.
I just want to take a moment at the end here to echo what Bill said yesterday about Harmon Killebrew, a kind man who radiates warmth and dignity, and who also happened to be one of the greatest ballplayers of all time. God bless him and his family.