Following last season's disappointing ALCS loss to the Detroit Tigers, nobody expected the usually free-spending New York Yankees to watch starting catcher Russell Martin leave via free agency without acquiring a viable replacement. However, with spring training approaching quickly and no quality catchers available to acquire, veteran Chris Stewart will be given a great opportunity to win the starting job.
Once Martin left after the Yankees failed to match his contract offer from the Pittsburgh Pirates, the 30 year-old Stewart still expected the Yankees to make another move.
"You always do," Stewart said. "It's the Yankees. They always have a Plan F. But we let Russell go and it was a thin [catching] market this year."
Joining Martin at the top of the catching market this winter were Mike Napoli and AJ Pierzynski. Napoli, however, is better suited to play first base and Pierzynski is already 36 years old. Both players were looking to cash in with multi-year deals, leaving the Yankees disinterested as the team tries to lower their payroll under $189 million by the 2014 season.
After all the proven free agent catchers had joined new teams, the Yankees were left with a three man platoon, Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, and Austin Romine, preparing to battle for the starting job in spring training.
"I'm pumped," said Stewart. "It's a new chapter for me. I'm not used to actually going in and having a shot to be a starter… It shows they have confidence in the guys we have here."
Though Stewart has more experience than Cervelli or Romine, he has never been a starter for an extended period of time. He played a career-high 67 games in 2011 with the San Francisco Giants after starter Buster Posey was injured.
Over six seasons, Stewart has a career batting average of .217 with four home runs and 26 RBI in 148 games. However, his defense behind the plate and his ability to call a game have earned him a good enough reputation to keep him in the league despite his lack of offensive production.
Stewart's chances of winning the starting job may have improved following the league's most recent drug scandal, as Cervelli has been listed as a possible client of Anthony Bosch, who was supplying athletes with performance-enhancing drugs. If Cervelli is proven guilty of using PEDs, he could face a 50 game suspension.
His other competitor, Romine, has only played in nine career games in the Majors, hitting .158 in 19 at-bats in 2011. However, the 24 year-old rookie has the most potential of the three and could add some much-needed youth to New York's roster if he can impress during spring training.
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