Sunday, January 8, 2012

Posada to Retire

During the late 1990s and first few years of the new millennium, the New York Yankees "Core Four" of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera epitomized everything that was right with the American League's flagship organization.  They represented traditional Yankee values such as class, dignity, consistency, leadership, and most importantly, winning.  This homegrown group of talent arrived together in the mid-90s and promptly revitalized a franchise that hadn't made a sustained run of excellence since the late 1970s, when the Bronx was burning and Reggie Jackson was the stir that stirred George Steinbrenner's drink.  Their arrival keyed the latest Yankee dynasty that won four Fall Classics in five seasons and fielded a competitive team every year.  As pricy free agents like Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, and Randy Johnson have come and gone over the past decade, these four estabished icons have been the glue that held those mercenary All-Star teams together.
The Core Four is now a Dynamic Duo
Last winter, southpaw Andy Pettitte was the first member to ride off into the sunset when he announced his retirement at the ripe old age of 38.  Yesterday, his longtime batterymate Jorge Posada, now 40 years old, declared his intention to retire from baseball.  That leaves the overpaid Captain, who will be 38 next season, and the timeless number 42, who just turned 42, as the last men standing from the team's most recent glory days.  In 2011 both showed they still have something left in the tank, but at their advanced ages they are baseball relics soon to be fossilized by their pinstripes. 

The Fan EloRater tool on
ranks Posada as the 208th best player in
baseball history
Unfortunately, Posada didn't have the same success eluding Father Time last year and his poor 2011 season left a sour taste in many mouths.  During spring training he was replaced by free agent acquisition Russell Martin as the team's backstop and took over as the team's designated hitter.  He slumped to begin the season, and when manager Joe Girardi dropped him to ninth in the order for a May 14th game against the rival Red Sox a disgraced Posada asked out of the lineup.  The incident sparked a media firestorm and turned many fans against the lifelong Yankee, who received less playing time as the season wore and finished the year with full season career lows across the board.  His contract was up and the organization clearly didn't want him back, not with Martin behind the plate and Jesus Montero poised to become the DH in 2012.  He saw the writing on the wall, and rather than trying to latch on with another team (the Marlins reportedly showed some interest) as a limited role player he hung up his spikes.  So although he didn't have the picture perfect ending to his career he still deserves commendation for his lengthy list of accomplishments.  He was the third best everyday catcher in the team's storied history, behind only Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey, who currently have plaques in Cooperstown.

Here are some of his highlights...
-His squads won five World Series and seven American League pennants, and he was an integral cog in those Yankee machines
-During Posada's prime, from 2000 to 2007, the switch-hitting receiver provided steady, reliable production with a .283/.389/.492 line, good for a 130 OPS+ and 37.1 of his 44.7 career bWAR.  A model of consistency, over the same period he averaged 23 home runs, 90 RBI, and 142 games played per year, figures that established him as one of the best offensive catchers in the game before he was overshadowed in the second half of his career by Joe Mauer, Brian McCann and Victor Martinez.
-Made five All-Star teams and received five Silver Sluggers; four each from 2000-2003 and his final ones coming in 2007
-Eight seasons with at least 20 home runs and 80 RBI, but only one with 30 and 100 (2003)
-His career spanned 17 seasons, and the Yankees made the playoffs every year except one (2008, when Posada missed over 100 games)
-Finished third in the 2003 AL MVP race (behind Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Delgado) and sixth in the 2007 race
-Finished fourth in the AL batting race in 2007 with a .338 average, the only time in his career he eclipsed .287
-With an .846 OPS batting lefty and .852 OPS hitting righty, he was the rare switch-hitter who is equally effective from both sides of the plate
-The durable backstop caught 1,574 games for New York, teaming up with great pitchers such as Pettitte, Rivera, Johnson, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, and C.C. Sabathia.  Only Berra and Dickey caught more

Posada was one of the best offensive catchers ever,
one of the few who could rake from both sides of the plate
...And some lowlights (besides 2011)
-Posada was never a great defensive catcher; he was average at best and finished with -2.9 dWAR for his career. Twice he led the league in passed balls and allowed his fair share of stolen bases.  In short, he was no Ivan Rodriguez
-He wasn't a great baserunner either; he was notoriously slow and was successful in less than half of his stolen base attempts with 20 thefts and 21 caught stealings
-Jorge struck out a lot early in his career, including 151 times in 505 at-bats in 2000 and 143 times in 511 at-bats two years later, although he eventually cut his whiff rate down
-He never led the league in any major offensive category, outside of double plays grounded into, which he led twice
-Posada played in 125 playoff games, and it's fair to say he was no Mr. October. His .248/.358/.387 line leaves a lot to be desired, and his statistics only got worse as his teams made it deeper into the playoffs (meaning he was spent by the World Series and less effective than a cardboard cutout in the batter's box). He never hit multiple home runs in a postseason series, despite playing in 29 of them, but did come through with the game-tying double off a fatigued Pedro Martinez in the bottom of the eighth in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.

Unfortunately Posada was a late bloomer; he was 25 during his rookie season, didn't start receiving serious playing time until he was 26, and didn't take over the full-time gig from future skipper Joe Girardi until he was 28. Had he been able to start his career a few years sooner, he probably would have been abe to reach some significant milestones like 1,000 walks and runs, 300 home runs and 3,000 total bases, which would have helped bolster his Hall of Fame case (as it is, I think he's a borderline case who probably won't get voted in because he didn't dominant during his peak nor compile overwhelming numbers, but like any Yankee he has a decent chance to get the call from a veteran's committee some day). Similarly, his career was marked by a swift and rapid decline after the Yankees inked their 36 year old catcher to an ill-advised four year, $52.4 million deal during the same winter they handed A-Rod a ten year, $275 million megadeal.  Predictably, he had trouble staying healthy, and even though the Yanks eventually gave him the everyday DH job he was already 39 and his bat was no longer productive enough for that role.  Maybe if they had moved him there a couple years earlier he could have preserved his legs and extended his career, but on the flip side they weren't paying him over thirteen million bucks a year just to hit. 
Posada leaves the game on his own terms
I wonder if Posada's decision will inspire his soon-to-be-40 rival, Jason Varitek of the Boston Red Sox, to retire.  I pleaded for 'Tek to call it a career here, and it would be fitting if he and Posada retired together.

No comments:

Post a Comment