For the past few years Brian Cashman has done nothing but rave about how much he liked Russell Martin so it was a shock to see the Yankees let him go to Pittsburgh without them making a single offer.
It was especially shocking considering how barren the free agent catching market was and the fact that the Yankees didn’t even think enough of Francisco Cervelli last year to even use him as their major league backup.
Then all winter it sounded like the job was no-hit catcher Chris Stewart‘s to lose based on how much both Cashman and Joe Girardi discussed the importance of defense. After all, Cervelli gained a reputation of a guy who is more likely to throw the ball into center field than to get a runner at second base.
This spring we’ve seen a different Cervelli though. He might still be the same guy who hit .246/.341/.316 in Triple-A last year, but he worked on his defense, particularly the way he sets up behind the plate and his throwing, during the offseason and he’s been like a breath of fresh air.
With his improved defense and a bat that, while not spectacular, can at least out-hit Stewart it seemed like he got a leg up on being named the Yankees starting catcher. And it wasn’t just me who thought that as Girardi told reporters that’s, “fair to say,” that he will be the team’s Opening Day catcher.
“He developed a few funny habits, and he broke those,” Girardi said. “He worked hard to break them.”
So there we have it. Perhaps the Yankees demotion of Cervelli last season was just the kick in the butt he needed. The thing about Martin was that he wasn’t so great. Sure, he could hit 20 homers and provided great defense, but 20 homers isn’t everything and his defense wasn’t otherworldly.
If Cervelli has really improved defensively, and can maintain it and not get lazy, while hitting something like his career .271/.339/.353 or better than he can be a serviceable fill in for Martin. Nothing spectacular, but not the black hole that everyone has made the position out to be.
• Michael Pineda took a huge step in his rehab yesterday when he threw a 35-pitch bullpen session that included sliders. Shoulder surgery usually requires a long rehab that often includes a few setbacks, but so far he has progressed nicely.
• Cesar Cabral is on the same rehab schedule and also threw a 35-pitch bullpen session with sliders.