With Russell Martin under control, the Yankees have an interesting conundrum on their hands. Before it looked like Martin would be available, the Yankees were prepared to commit to the 2010 season with Jesus Montero as their primary catcher. Francisco Cervelli would back him up, and Posada would DH.
Assuming that the Yankees do not trade Jesus Montero, they now have some decisions to make. How do they bring their top prospect up into the majors? Russell Martin will bring his 2-3 WAR production to the team for 2 years now, but Jesus Montero isn’t going to wait for 2 years. He hit a robust .289/.353/.517 at Triple-A last year, including .351/.396/.684 in a monster second half. He improved his defense up to an acceptable (if poor) major league level. He doesn’t have a lot to gain by waiting for two years. And he still needs to catch full time. Montero made big strides over the past season and a half once he started catching 5 days a week, and the Yankees would be making a big mistake by reversing that trend.
So, what do you do? As far as I can tell, the Yankees have three options. They could trade Jesus Montero for a pitcher. They could bring Montero up right away, but play him only 2-3 days a week behind the plate (and possibly some DH some) while Martin remains nominally the starting catcher. Or they could let him sit in the minors until he either forces his way into the majors or Martin forces his way off the team.
Of these options, I prefer the third. Montero gains long term by playing every day no matter where he does it. The Yankees can bring him up when he’s on a hot streak, or even when the weather is warm. Cold weather was was theory to explain Montero’s very slow start last season, as he had never played a cold weather game before. The Giants did this with Buster Posey last season, and it worked very well.
As an added bonus, they also give Russell Martin some time to try and rebound. If he becomes his old self, or some fraction of it, he will both have value to the team and to other teams. Say the Yankees call Montero up in late-May, and he immediately hits. His defense isn’t too bad, and the team is confident that he represents the future option. Martin would then present a great trade chip to acquire the kind of pitching that the Yankees will surely need. The Yankees would be further adding to their surplus of catching talent, and could leverage it for some team’s surplus pitching talent.
A quick aside about trading Montero: now is not the time to do it. There aren’t a lot of particularly satisfying options out there, and prices will definitely rise after the free agent spending spree that we saw. Once teams start to fall out of contention, more options will be on the market, and the Yankees have a good enough team to keep them in contention for some time now. A strong start from A.J. Burnett or Phil Hughes could even negate the need for another pitcher. And Montero is a really, really good player who shouldn’t be traded lightly.