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Observations From Cooperstown: Hershiser, Posada, and Mr. Kachline

Posted By Bruce Markusen On July 2, 2010 @ 10:03 am In Bronx Banter,Bruce Markusen | Comments Disabled

Orel Hershiser is fast becoming one of the most astute analysts on network television. In bringing some actual analysis to ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball booth, Hershiser consistently exhibits an ability to fairly and clearly assess whatever team happens to be playing that night.

In working last Sunday’s game with the Dodgers, Hershiser pointedly discussed the Yankees’ needs as they approach the July 31st trading deadline. He pinned the tail correctly, as he listed the bullpen and the bench as the two areas the Yankees should target in trying to strengthen themselves for the final two months of the season. That runs counter to all of the columnist and beat writers who have suggested the Yankees make a priority of adding Cliff Lee to their rotation. But the acquisition of Lee would not address a weakness for the Yankees. Outside of alternating slumps by Javier Vazquez and A.J. Burnett, the Yankee rotation has been firm and formidable. There are also competent reinforcements at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre, where prospects Ivan Nova and Zack McAllister have pitched reasonably well and remain legitimate second-half options.

Additionally, the asking price for Lee figures to be high. The Mariners will almost certainly ask for Jesus Montero and possibly one other prospect in any deal for their left-handed ace. Given Lee’s age (31) and impending free agent status, Montero should stay off limits to Seattle and everyone else. Finding a solid reliever and/or a good platoon player figures to come at a far less substantial cost than a top-flight left-hander like Lee.

As Hershiser suggests, the bullpen and bench are more pressing needs for New York. With Joba Chamberlain mired in his enigmatic quagmire, and Chan Ho Park and Boone Logan continuing to occupy roster spots that they do not deserve, an effective late-inning reliever becomes a near necessity. Power-armed Mike MacDougal is now available after opting out of his minor league contract with the Nationals. On the trade front, Octavio Dotel, now with the Pirates, might be worth pursuing for a second stint in the Bronx. Or perhaps Arizona’s Chad Qualls, who has been good in recent years before falling off a cliff in 2010, would benefit from escaping the Diamondbacks’ bubonic bullpen plague.

In terms of bench concersn, the Yankees always seem to have someone facing a nagging day-to-day injury, with Brett “The Jet” Gardner the latest victim. So whom should the Yankees target for depth on the bench? The bargain basement shelf includes corner infielder Chad Tracy, recently released by the Cubs. On the trade market, Washington’s hard-hitting Josh Willingham could be an option at DH and a platoon partner for Curtis Granderson (with Brett Gardner moving over to center field). Baltimore’s Ty Wigginton would be an ever better fit. He could DH against lefties, spot Alex Rodriguez at third base on days when he needs to DH, and back up both Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira on the right side of the infield.

***

It’s official. Jorge Posada is now the worst starting defensive catcher I have seen in nearly 40 years of watching major league ball.

Now let me clarify. I’ve seen poorer defensive catchers than Posada in my day. The list of undistinguished receivers has included players like former Yankee Cliff Johnson (bad hands, ragged arm), ex-Red and ex-Astro Alan Knicely (hands of stone), and former Nationals disaster Matt LeCroy (an arm that only Venus de Milo could love). But they were all part-time players who either served as backup catchers, or spent significant time at other slots, like the outfield and DH. In terms of players who were regulars or full-timers behind the plate, Posada has become catching’s version of Plan Nine From Outer Space.

Hardly a game goes by in which Posada does not allow a hittable pitch to clang off his glove and carom toward the backstop. In many cases, these miscues occur with no one on base and with less than two strikes on the batter, so the damage becomes inconsequential. In other cases, like the finale of this week’s series with Seattle, the inability to catch a routine pitch results in batters advancing, setting up run-scoring situations for the opposition.

Posada has other problems, too. Lacking in quickness and reaction time, he does not smother or block low pitches effectively. At 38 years of age, he no longer throws accurately or with power, making him vulnerable to teams with speed. On the plus side, he does handle pop-ups well. I’ll give him that much. With regard to foul pops, Jorge Posada is one of the better catchers in the game.

Unfortunately, the ability to catch pop-ups ranks low on the priority scale for major league catchers. Then again, Posada did not exactly set high standards for catching efficiency in 2009, a season in which the Yankees still managed to win the world championship. So the Yankees can overcome Posada’s fielding foibles in 2010, as long as he continues to hit and slug at acceptable levels. As long as Posada retains his current offensive prowess, and as long as Joe Girardi continues to massage the situation by giving Posada at least two to three DH appearances a week, the Yankees should be able to survive.

But it is becoming hard to watch Posada work behind the plate. Frankly, it is becoming an embarrassment, one that the Yankees may have to face more forcefully in 2011…

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As a young fan who became addicted to The Sporting News, the contributions of Cliff Kachline as one of its longtime editors and writers took on special meaning. With conscientious, detail-oriented people like Kachline and the Spink family laying the groundwork, The Sporting News became a must-read weekly newspaper for baseball fans in the 1960s and seventies.

Yet, I knew Cliff Kachline, who passed away on Monday at the age of 88, through more than just his written and edited words. He became the historian at the Hall of Fame and National Baseball Library, remaining in Cooperstown into his retirement years before he later moved to Illinois. That’s how I came to know the man who was so knowledgeable, dignified, and gentlemanly.

When I worked in the Hall of Fame’s programming department, Cliff and his wife Evelyn used to regularly attend Thursday night movies that we offered in the Hall’s Bullpen Theater. The Kachlines always added a welcome, dignified presence to those film sessions, which produced some of my most enjoyable moments at the Hall of Fame. I miss seeing the Kachlines at such events.

I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated when I first met Cliff, largely because of his reputation as a walking baseball encyclopedia. But he managed to eradicate that feeling with his friendly, approachable nature that was helpful to younger writers and researchers like myself. He also had a way of speaking bluntly and honestly, but always with a gentle smile that diffused any potential rancor.

One of the original founders of SABR, Cliff Kachline was a supremely hard worker, a detailed researcher, and a devout fan of the game. Both the local and national SABR communities will greatly miss his knowledge and his presence.

Cooperstown will miss him just as much.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.


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