Results tagged ‘ february 19 ’
Right now is perhaps the most exciting time ever in Chris Stewart’s decade as a professional baseball player. He’s in Tampa, attending the Yankees’ spring training camp with a very good chance of winning the team’s starting catcher’s job vacated by recently departed free agent, Russell Martin. The odds of that happening may have also improved in his favor recently when it was revealed that his main competition for the job, Francisco Cervelli has been implicated in an investigation of a Miami-based PED dispensing clinic. When you consider the fact that this native of Fontana, California has been on five different teams during his six partial seasons in the Majors and has never appeared in more than 67 games or averaged higher than .243 in any of them, it is a near-miracle that he is this close to claiming a job once held by the likes of Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada.
As near as I can figure, Stewart’s most important asset is his ability to effectively frame pitches. That’s a term that describes how catchers position and quickly move their gloves on pitches that are just out of the strike zone in an effort to deceive umpires into thinking they are strikes. Now you probably find it as hard to believe as I do that the mighty Yankees would reward any catcher with the starting job behind the plate based on an ability to steal strikes. The truth is of course that the richest team in baseball has decided they are going to lower their annual player payroll to $189 million by 2014, which will save them $50 million in subsequent luxury tax payments. To get the dollars down to that level, they’ve decided to gamble, or actually penny-pinch with the catcher’s position. Instead of paying Russell Martin the $7.5 million in annual salary it would have taken to keep him in a Yankee uniform for the next two years, they are going to pay a career back-up like Stewart seven million per year less to take his place.
Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi believe that Stewart is or can be as good a defensive catcher as Martin was for them and I tend to agree. It appears that most of the Yankee rotation didn’t mind and might have actually preferred having Stewart behind the plate instead of Martin when they were on the mound. But Stewart lacks Martin’s offensive skills, especially in the power and base-running departments and he’s not as “fiery” as the former Yankee catcher either. My biggest concerns with Stewart behind the plate will be his near automatic out track record and his endurance. Opposing pitchers have little to fear when they face him and that won’t be a good situation for the Yankees during the upcoming season.
Setting these concerns aside for a moment, Stewart turns just 31-years-old today. He’s still young enough to improve his hitting stroke. He’s also physically a big guy, at 6’4″ tall and about 210 pounds, which should help him absorb the additional pounding his body will receive as a result of the increased playing time. If he is able to step up and play well enough to make people not miss Martin, it will mean a great deal to the Yankees’ chances of making another postseason. That’s exactly what I’m hoping for. Actually, I’m still hoping the Yankees make a trade for Joe Mauer before Opening Day but barring that, I’ll try to be Chris Stewart’s biggest fan in 2013.
In addition to the Yankees, Stewart has saw time with the White Sox, Rangers, Padres and Giants. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee shortstop.
The 1989 season was a bad one for Yankee fans. That year’s team became the first New York club in fifteen seasons to lose more regular season games than it won, (74-87.) It was a season of transition for my favorite baseball team but unfortunately, that transition was moving in the wrong direction. That year would be the last time Don Mattingly would average .300 in a full regular season in pinstripes. It was the first time in almost a decade that Dave Winfield wasn’t a Yankee outfielder and the last season Ricky Henderson was. It was the first year of Ron Guidry’s retirement and the final year George Steinbrenner would officially dictate all team moves before being suspended for his role in the Howie Spira scandal. The Yankee managers that season were Dallas Green and then Bucky Dent, both of whom were fired, clearing the way for the Stump Merrill era to begin one season later or as I like to refer to it as “the era of being completely Stumped.”
It appeared as if the only good thing happening in Yankee Stadium in 1989 was the introduction of a flashy Venezuelan-born starting shortstop. But alas, even that turned out to be an illusion. When I think of Alvaro Espinosa during his Yankee playing days I’m reminded of a line that comedian Billy Crystal used on Saturday Night Live whenever he impersonated the actor, Fernando Lamas, with one slight modification. “It is better to look good than to play good.”
At first appearance to Yankee fans, Alvaro Espinosa looked like a classic Major League shortstop. He hit .282 his first full year as a Yankee and played shortstop with a flair that often thrilled us. As time and Yankee seasons wore on however and the team’s losses mounted, it became clear that Espinosa’s defensive skills, though not horrible were far from great and his propensity to swing at terrible pitches on 3-0 counts and his lack of run production made him a liability in the Yankee lineup. When Buck Showalter replaced Stump Merrill in 1992, Espinosa’s three-year reign as New York’s starting shortstop was officially over. There was of course Espinosa’s great gold necklace. I could be wrong but I do believe it was Alvaro who first introduced bling to big league baseball in the Bronx. In any event, happy 51st birthday to Mr Espinosa and may he enjoy many more. He shares his birthday with this Yankee catcher.