Girardi said Austin Romine is still competing with Jesus Montero for the backup catcher’s job, at least while Francisco Cervelli recovers. Both need to “show they can possibly handle this situation,” Girardi said. And while Girardi said Romine is a better defensive catcher than Montero, Girardi believes Montero has closed the gap somewhat. Neither has thrived on offense. Romine, 0-for-2 Sunday, is hitting .167. Montero, who doubled in one at-bat, is batting .212.
This reminds me a lot of the “competition” for the 5th starter role that was waged last spring between Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, and Alfredo Aceves. While the team stated publicly on a number of occasions that it was an open competition for that rotation spot, it soon became clear that the job was Hughes’ to lose. The competition was largely a fiction being used to make sure Hughes did not become overly comfortable and continued to work hard on his stuff. Once he showed solid results and a willingness to put in the effort required from him, the battle was over and Hughes was crowned the winner.
In this year’s competition, the Yankees are paying lip service to Romine’s chances but are not actually treating him like a contender for the job. Montero has been afforded many more opportunities than Romine to showcase his game, with almost twice as many at-bats (33 to 18) and more innings behind the plate ( 12 games, 8 starts, 61 innings for Montero, 9 games, 3 starts, 40.1 innings for Romine). While the club continues to talk up Romine’s candidacy, their actions clearly state that the job is Montero’s, barring injury.
It seems that once again the Yankees are trying to convince everybody that a competition exists so as to push a player to continue working hard despite his status as a near lock to make the club. Once Francisco Cervelli went down, Montero became the only viable option for the backup catcher spot, so the Yankees created a fictional position battle to make sure that he would not relax with his primary competitor on the disabled list. Much like in the Hughes situation, unless Jesus totally embarrasses himself on the field or does something off the field that shows a lack of commitment, the backup job is his.
That said, I do think that Montero is actually competing with someone: Francisco Cervelli. If Montero starts tearing the cover off the ball once the regular season starts and is adequate behind the plate, he could make it very difficult for the Yankees to send him down once Cervelli is healthy. However, if he continues to struggle with the bat or does extremely poorly as a receiver, it is highly likely that Jesus will be sent back to AAA to continue his development and Cervelli will recover his roster spot. Considering how young Jesus is and the questions about his defense, I expect Cervelli to reclaim the backup catcher’s spot, at least temporarily, at some point in the season’s first few months.
Photo Credit: Seattle Times
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