Now a 33-year-old journeyman catcher, Mike Rivera was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Detroit Tigers in 1997. He made his major league debut with those Tigers on September 18, 2001 getting into four games. In 2002 he spent the bulk of his playing time in triple-A, but also played 39 days in Detroit.
After the 2002 season, Rivera was traded to the San Diego Padres for Gene Kingsale. He only played in 19 games for the Padres that season before getting picked up on waivers by the Chicago White Sox on June 9, 2003. He never played in the majors for the White Sox and spent the 2004 season in the Athletics organization after again getting claimed off of waivers. Finally a free agent in 2005 he signed with the Detroit Tigers who released him after spring training when he didn’t make the opening day roster.
That turned out to be a big break though for Rivera. He spent the entire 2005 season stuck in triple-A again, but in 2006 he finally made it back to the big leagues. Over the next four seasons Rivera appeared in 119 games as the Brewers backup catcher most of the time behind Jason Kendall. He had a league average bat with a 97 OPS+, a .260 average, .333 OBP, a .423 slugging percentage, and a .756 OPS.
2010: The Yankees seem almost 100 percent ready to go into this season with Francisco Cervelli as their primary backup and signed Mike Rivera this offseason as their insurance policy just in case. His 97 OPS+ seems decent for a third string catcher, but beyond that I didn’t know a lot about Rivera so I asked Jim Breen of the Brewers blog Bernie’s Crew for some info on the much traveled backstop. Here is what he had to say:
Rivera became quite the fan favorite in Milwaukee during the Jason Kendall years for two reasons: (1) He hit .306 in very limited duty in 2008. (2) Anyone was preferable to Jason Kendall at the plate. He has a big, long swing, which can make him strikeout prone when his timing is off, but can also provide some pop off the bench. His patience has improved in recent years, but his plate discipline has never been a thing of beauty. His defense is solid, though unremarkable. Mike Rivera has some redeeming qualities that make him an attractive option as a backup catcher, but nothing more.
From Breen’s description Rivera sounds like the perfect “emergency” catcher. His defense doesn’t seem strong enough to be a true backup catcher, but his bat seems just good enough that you want to keep him around. The third catcher role is exactly the role Yankee fans should expect him in during his time in the organization. The Yankees seem genuine in their desire to use Cervelli as their backup, but in the event he or Jorge Posada are injured Rivera will be the first one called up to the Bronx. However, if there is any sort of extended injury expect the Yankees to at least investigate dealing for a more seasoned veteran or strongly consider calling up either Jesus Montero or Austin Romine. In other words, it is doubtful the Yankees would actually give Rivera much playing time.
When the Yankees expand their roster in September expect them to call-up a catcher. Rivera could see some time in the Bronx then, but the 40-man roster situation will be in play then. Right now the only catchers on the 40-man are Posada and Cervelli if there are any other catchers on that roster besides those two and Rivera whoever that other person is will probably pass Rivera up by then as the emergency catcher option.