In those handful of moments when the New York Yankees talked about an austerity drive a couple of years ago, when Hal Steinbrenner spoke of getting under the salary cap, they decided to let Russell Martin walk away as a free agent -- and he was snapped up by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In December 2013, as the Yankees pared down a roster flush with catching, they decided to trade Chris Stewart, and the Pirates grabbed him to be Martin’s backup.
Last week, as Pittsburgh looked to build a safety net in case Martin walks away as a free agent, the Pirates turned to the Yankees again, swapping veteran reliever Justin Wilson for Francisco Cervelli.
It’s not a coincidence that there has been a Yankees-Pirates catching pipeline in place, because both teams apparently place the same high priority on pitch-framing, a skill that Martin, Stewart and Cervelli all possess, and a skill that is being increasingly valued by teams as they look for the smallest (and largest) advantages. The days when teams are content with slapping shin guards and a mask on a slugger and living with defensive deficiencies are just about over.
With that as the context for how catchers are evaluated in 2014, here’s the first in a series of rankings of the top 10 players at each position, based on their overall skills on both offense and defense. The rankings are crafted with input from some general managers and other evaluators in the sport.
The top 10 catchers:
For every evaluator who prefers Posey, there’s another who would rather take Yadier Molina. Some prefer Molina’s defense, his ability to shut down a running game; others like Posey, because he has been the most consistently excellent hitter when compared to others at this position. He has a career OPS of .861, a neighborhood that Molina has achieved in only one season: 2012, when he had an .874 OPS.
Molina, a future Hall of Famer, is universally regarded as the better defensive player. But Posey’s defense is good, and his pitchers say it's improving in how he calls games and how he handles situations.