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Need a catcher? Consider Yanks' Cervelli

5/20/2010

The New York Yankees can live without Jorge Posada for a month, if the hairline fracture in his right foot needs that long to heal, and so can his fantasy owners, at least in ESPN standard leagues. As I often say, catchers in one-active-catcher leagues are easy to replace.

Don't get me wrong, Posada is a very good offensive catcher, hitting .326 with 20-homer power. But a month of Miguel Olivo, Chris Snyder or John Buck isn't going to kill you, either. After the top four or five fantasy catchers, the next 10 kind of all look alike, so just play the hot hands ... er, bats.

But what about a month of Francisco Cervelli? How about him? After all, he's the fellow who will handle the bulk of the backstop duties for the Yankees, and from what we've seen from this 24-year-old so far, that's hardly a bad thing. Cervelli is hitting .373 over 67 at-bats, and his 17 RBIs actually rank eighth at catcher, ahead of Posada, Matt Wieters, Russell Martin and Geovany Soto, among others. And he has accomplished this in much less playing time. Cervelli ranks 17th on ESPN's Player Rater among catchers, inflated because of batting average, and while he's certainly in for some adjustment there, it might not be as much as you might think.

Cervelli hit .298 in 94 at-bats with the Yankees last season, and that batting average didn't seem like a fluke, though it was tough to tell. There's not much power here, but I think this guy can hit for average, and in this lineup anyone can knock in runs. Cervelli, who has drawn nearly as many walks as he has struck out, could knock in 15 runs per month, and most catchers don't. I wouldn't call Cervelli ownable in standard, 10-team mixed leagues that start one catcher, but for those in multi-catcher formats who want batting-average protection, I think he can provide it.

The Posada DL stint does present repercussions to him as well as others. For Posada, while I don't doubt his ability to make a swift and successful return, he is 38 years old and brings little defensive value. Yes, the Rays ran all over Cervelli in Wednesday's game, but if the pitchers give him a chance, he should be able to hold his own against opposing running games. Meanwhile, Posada last reached 30 percent on throwing out base stealers in 2006. In the big leagues last season, Cervelli threw out 10 of 23 would-be base stealers, and the staff ERA was 3.43 with him catching; with Posada behind the plate, the staff ERA was 5.02, and this season it's 4.17. Cervelli has caught a majority of A.J. Burnett's starts this season, and maybe this is what Javier Vazquez needs as well. On Friday night at Citi Field, we shall see.

This leads to what I think will be a domino effect for the Yankees. Cervelli can be a regular catcher. He'll prove this in the next three weeks. Yet Posada can really hit. The Yankees are without Nick Johnson (wrist), and if Johnson has taught us anything in his career, it's that he is not a quick healer . So I think Posada is going to spend a lot of time at designated hitter when he returns. This is very good news for fantasy owners. Catchers often wear down in the hot summer months, but catcher-eligibles who hit and don't need to catch should, in theory, not succumb to the same problem. For the record, Posada historically has poor numbers as a DH, with a .694 OPS (he has a career .871 OPS as a catcher). But the point is, the Yankees won't simply stop playing Cervelli if he plays well. Playing Posada at DH and keeping Cervelli in the lineup often allows them to not rush Nick Johnson back to the lineup. (I already cut Johnson in a 12-team mixed league.)

There also will be the obvious demands for top prospect Jesus Montero to get the call to the big leagues, but it appears the Yankees' brass do not think the 20-year-old is ready defensively for the majors. He's also not hitting much at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Double-A catcher Austin Romine isn't ready, either. Longtime underwhelming veteran Chad Moeller got the promotion, and it's to back up Cervelli. If Montero got the call, he would figure to play regularly. But that's not happening, not this season.