As the New York Yankees settle into their 2011 Spring Training routine, this could be the beginning of the end for long-time Yankee mainstay Jorge Posada. The signs are everywhere, and he is not oblivious to them.
Posada will turn 40 this season. He is in the final year of a four-year, $52.4 million contract. He has been rudely shoved aside as a catcher, the job he has held with the Yankees as a regular since 1998. He will be No. 3 this season, likely behind Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli. Posada is still scheduled to play regularly, but as the team’s designated hitter only.
He knows this could be his final season, that he could be the next great Yankee to hang up his pinstripes.
“A lot has to do with this year — how I feel this year, how I come out after this season,” Posada said. “I would like to stay healthy. I think DHing will help me. After the season, we’ll see how my body responded the whole year and make the decision then. I’m happy with everything that’s gone on.”
When you think of great Yankee catchers, you think of Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Elston Howard and Thurman Munson. You should also think of Posada.
He may not be a Hall of Famer, but I have always thought that many Yankee fans have underestimated Posada’s importance to the Yankees. Over the years his defensive skills have been questioned, and in 2010 the Yankees finally reached a point where they felt his defense had deteriorated too much for him to continue behind the plate. When you throw out just 15 percent of potential base stealers and allow eight passed balls and 32 wild pitches in just 83 games behind the plate those types of judgments will be made.
Posada’s toughness, leadership and desire to win have been important to the Yankees for 14 very successful seasons now. So has his bat. Ultimately, it will be the bat that will keep him in the game. Or, bring him to decide to hang up his spikes after the 2011 season.
Can he adjust to being a designated hitter? He thinks he can.
"When you’re an everyday catcher and they throw you in as a DH, it’s tough," Posada said. "But I think knowing before spring training started that you’re going to be a DH, I think that helped me a little bit."
Posada hit 18 home runs, drove in 57 runs and had a slugging percentage of .454 in 383 at-bats a season ago. I think the Yankees would take similar production from him this season.
Yankee fans don’t have that much more time to chant “hip-hip Jorge” and to enjoy watching one of the best and toughest Yankees of recent history. Let’s hope that Posada’s bat, and his body, don’t let him down and that — if this is his season in pinstripes — it turns out well for him.