What do you do when your designated hitter can't do the one thing you've hired him to do? In Jorge Posada's case, the answer is a difficult one for the New York Yankees to answer. Posada isn't hitting, but how can they bench one of their most beloved players?
Posada is performing abysmally at the DH spot for the Yanks, last among designated hitters in Major League Baseball with a .176 batting average, .352 slugging percentage, a .295 on-base percentage, and last in the MLB among designated hitters with a .647 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). He's being paid $13.1 million this year for this production--the last year of his contract.
In terms of slugging percentage, there are worse designated hitters playing today. The Chicago White Sox are in a worse spot than the Yankees with their four-year deal with Adam Dunn, who is making $12 million this year and will collect $56 million before it's all over. Dunn is slugging at .338 and already has 60 strikeouts this year.
Jack Cust is performing dismally at DH this season too (.317 SLG, .683 OPS). But Seattle is only paying him $2.5 million.
As Neil Paine pointed out in a New York Times article, the sad part about this situation is that Posada has produced way beyond what any baseball person would expect from an aging catcher these last few years. Most of the storied catchers of the past hung up their cleats by the age of 34. They had to--the job of being a backstop is murder on a person's body, especially the knees. Posada is 39. Last year he contributed 18 home runs and finished with an .811 OPS. In 2007, at the age when most catchers have retired, his OPS was .969 and he had 90 RBIs.
In the offseason, New York can quietly move him into coaching or scouting, heaping plaudits on him all the way. He deserves it. He's been a cornerstone of the team since 1998, during a very successful era for the Yankees. But right now he is a serious drag on them. What should the Yankees do right now to fix the problem?
Only one effective DH is rumored to be on the market, Jim Thome, and he's only been off the disabled list, due to a bad back, for one game. The 40-year-old journeyman hit two home runs in three at-bats on his return to the Minnesota Twins.
The Yankees could look internally for a replacement, but no candidates are apparent. New York is carrying five outfielders, but with Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner already starting, the selection is down to Nick Swisher (who is having a dismal year at the plate), Andruw Jones (who is having a worse year) and Chris Dickerson (who has produced, but in only eight at-bats). Choose one of those three to complete the outfield and put another one at DH and you still have a soft spot in your lineup.
The answer may be Eric Chavez. He's batting .303 with an .834 OPS for the Yanks. He's also on the disabled list with an injured foot. Rumors have him returning to the team at the end of May, but the New York Post recently reported that he is just beginning some weight-bearing stuff.
In the offseason, the Yankees will have options, especially given the team's deep pockets. David Ortiz is in the last year of his contract with the Red Sox.
By the All-Star break, some teams will concede the 2011 season and put some expensive pieces up for sale.
But for now, the Yankees are stuck with one of their living legends, a star who performed way beyond his prime and is now in an unenviable spot.