Back Stiffness or Sitting Out, The Posada-Gate Report
Sunday May 15, 2011
MLB reports: A big tilt was scheduled for last night, Yankees vs. Red Sox. Always a classic between two of the biggest rivalries in baseball and all of sports. While both teams have taken time to get out of the gate, signs were starting to appear that each was starting to come around and getting ready for a dog battle for the AL East crown with the Rays all summer long. One minor sidenote was the lineups, which was shaken up by Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Struggling DH Jorge Posada, normally batting somewhere in the middle to lower-end of the Yankees lineup, was dropped to the #9 slot. Considering that Jorge was batting .165 and struggling all season for the Yankees, most baseball fans and analysts would not have given the move a second thought. In fact, most would have applauded Girardi for making the necessary move to most help his ball club and perhaps ignite his stagnant DH. But something happened along the way that resulted in Posada missing yesterday’s matchup. As the mystery of the missing Posada is unfolding, tongues cannot stop wagging and the baseball world has its focus on New York to attempt to solve “Posada Gate”.
From the news and people that I have spoken with, it is clear that Jorge Posada came to manager Joe Girardi before the game and asked to be taken out of the lineup. Girardi accommodated Posada in his request and changed the lineup. Somewhere along the way Posada made mention of “feeling disrespected by the Yankees” as well. The issue becomes blurry as it does not appear that Posada indicated at the time of his removal that he had any sort of injury and the comments on being disrespected is being directed to being placed in the #9 slot in the Yankees batting order. During the game last night, damage control was in full effect. Posada’s wife, out of all people, tweeted during the game that her husband was suffering from back stiffness and that was the reason for him missing the game. The “back stiffness” account was confirmed by Posada’s agent as of this morning and by Posada himself last night after the game. But something seems awry and not sitting right with me. Let’s dig deeper to see if we can get to the bottom of this.
Brian Cashman, the Yankees General Manager, informed the media that Posada had removed himself from the game and did not make it known that any injury was behind the decision. From reading Cashman’s comments, I had the distinct impression that the Yankees were not impressed with Posada’s actions. Having Posada indicate that he felt disrespected was the kick in the teeth, the igniter of this Yankees fire. I cannot understand what Posada was thinking in making such a statement, but it is clear that both player and team need to work towards finding a quick resolution to Posada Gate. The team does not need such a distraction coming from one of its elder players and possible future hall of famer. But in order for such a resolution to arrive, both team and player need to come clean, apologize and move forward.
Lets be clear from one end. The New York Yankees do not owe Jorge Posada a single thing. In 2007, the Yankees granted the then 35-year-old Posada a 4-year, $52.4 million contract. On the open market, coming off back-to-back 20+ home run, 90+ RBI seasons, Posada would have been lucky to obtain a 2-year, $20 million deal. The Yankees were essentially bidding against themselves and out of loyalty and reward for Posada’s years of service to the team, compensated him with one last big score. The team knew full well that Posada would not be able to play out the contract as a catcher and would like move to 1B or DH at some point, making him less valuable from a financial standpoint. But the team gave Posada his due and he happily accepted the contract.
Taking a look at the situation following Posada’s signing, the value has not been there. Posada was injured for much of 2008, limited to 51 games. In 2009, Posada at 37 had his last big season, with 22 home runs, .285 AVG and .885 OPS. But as we recall, Posada and teammate A.J. Burnett were having issues, as A.J. was insistent that Molina catch his games rather than Posada, based on Posada’s eroding skills behind the plate. While much of the blame was directed at Burnett, Posada did little to calm the waters. The Yankees stood behind Posada then, even considering that his defense was no longer acceptable at the major league level. Going into 2010, Posada remained the Yankees catcher and played 83 games behind the plate. Finishing the season with a .248 AVG, the Yankees were in a bind. They had one more year to go with Posada with a monster contract. Despite needing to make a change sooner, the Yankees showed Posada loyalty by sticking behind him up to that point. But with the highest payroll in the game and team performance and team results coming first, the Yankees made the right move. Former all-star catcher Russell Martin was signed as a free agent after being let go by the Dodgers. The Yankees were able to outbid the Jays and Red Sox for his services and have been handsomely rewarded with Martin’s strong play behind the plate and with the bat. Beating out the Red Sox, with the second-worst hitting catching tandem in baseball, makes the signing that much sweeter. With also three of the top catching prospects in the game sitting in their farm system, the Yankees clearly had options. Jorge Posada, based on his declining numbers and skills, was not one of them.
So here is where we sit today. Jorge Posada got his big contract. The team stuck with him through injuries and poor play, despite the fact that it was not the best decision from a baseball standpoint. Going into 2011, the Yankees said “no more” and moved Posada to DH full-time. To be able to save wear and tear and focus on offense, experts agreed the move was best for the team and player. Posada offered little resistance, although he did indicate in the media several times that the adjustment was difficult and one that he did not necessarily enjoy. But sitting in the middle of May, hitting .165, Jorge Posada was not in a position to make demands or question his manager’s authority. Posada should be embarrassed with his statistics and working towards improving himself, rather than blaming others. My feel for the situation, is taking a look at the lineup card Posada did remove himself from the lineup out of pride. But where is the pride when he collects his giant paychecks every 2 weeks and does little to show for it? That is the problem with baseball and sports. When a player does well and is underpaid, he demands higher compensation out of “fairness”. But when a player is making a lot of money and does not perform, the player does not return the money despite the fact that the team is not receiving its value. “Respect” seems to go one way but not the other and that is not right.
The Yankees are justified in being upset with Posada, as they have shown him respect to-date as shown above. When Posada removed himself from the game, the team justifiably took it as a slap in the face and called the player out for his treason. Coming to his senses and realizing I believe the mistake of his ways, Posada is now trying to justify the situation by claiming “back stiffness” caused his decision to not play yesterday. But why would he conveniently forget to tell his manager this piece of information? If the team was aware of Posada’s injury, Cashman would have responded differently to the media. Posada looks to me like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar and is now trying to get himself out. The truth would have been best but now with the injury claim, Posada has made himself and his team look terrible and guilty. Nobody wins in these situations.
The Yankees, don’t get me wrong, are not without fault. I do not agree with how Cashman spoke to the media. If Cashman spoke to Posada about the situation, both the player and team should have issued a joint statement after the fact. But airing one’s dirty laundry in the media is not the proper method to use. While the team is justified in being upset over Posada’s actions, it should have dealt with the matter privately and in-house. Now the cat is out of the bag and difficult to hide and clear away.
I have seen this situation time and time again with teams and veteran players. The issue is not as much the Yankees and Jorge Posada, but teams giving big money and long-term deals to older players. It rarely works and often blows up in everyone’s faces. Think to Frank Thomas, Raul Ibanez, Milton Bradley, Aaron Rowand, Barry Zito…how many of these big contracts to older players ended up working out. What kills me is that the teams pay $10s of millions of dollars and its the teams that are seen as disrespecting the players by sitting them, moving them around in the lineup or releasing them. That is not fair in my estimation. If the players are cashing their cheques, there comes a point where they need to shut up, play and do as the team tells them. But this notion is getting lost in baseball and is being lost in the Jorge Posada story today.
Where Posada Gates goes from here, few of us know. The likely scenario is that the player will stick to the injury story, the team will grumble under its breath and the relationship will continue smoothly for the rest of the year. Posada’s agent surely told him that he did not have a leg to stand on and to keep his reputation and contract in check, sticking to the injury story would be best for his image. After all, if Posada did come out and state that he sat yesterday because he was upset for being dropped in the lineup, he would branded and blasted in the New York media. But truthfully, I would have respected him more if he had come clean rather than rely on the childish cover-up attempt after the fact. At the end of the day, the deed is done and we all need to move forward. Both player and team need to say their respective stories, make peace and move forward. But based on the Yankees loyalty shown to Posada, let’s remember the full story before we jump to conclusions.
Jorge Posada will be a free agent at season’s end. The Yankees have already indicated that he is not in their plans and that they will be moving forward come to 2012. I do not know of many teams that are looking for ex-catchers in their 40s hitting .165 as their lineup targets. Baseball is evolving like we have never seen before. Teams are going away from 40-something DHs and keeping the spot open for younger players to rotate throughout games to keep everyone healthy. With the steroid era at an end and team salaries at an all-time high, baseball is becoming more than ever a young man’s sport. While many players used to hang around till their 40s to pad their career numbers, players like Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa and Jermaine Dye essentially had mandatory retirement thrust upon them by a lack of interest. Jorge Posada is one of the lucky ones. He is getting to play to his 40th birthday and earning a maximum career salary. While many players in their mid-30s need to play on minor league deals and incentive structures, Posada is getting full and unconditional pay. Posada had to realize this year that he could no longer play in the field and is looking towards the future and realizing that he soon may not be able to play at all. Rather than blaming the team, it is time to look in the mirror and to think how much he has left in the tank. For a team that has given him so much money, opportunities and shown so much faith in him until this year, it is time for him to pay the Yankees back. I hope to see everyone take the high road on this one at the end of the day. It is better for the player, the team and the game. Posada Gate was interesting and provided all of us with good conversation piece. Now let’s be done with it and turn our attention to the only thing that should matter: baseball action on the field.
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