I have t0 tell myself it's too soon to sing "ding, dong, the witch is dead."
After all, backup catchers are like Dracula, Jason Voorhees, and the Terminator, all rolled into one.
But one of the strangest tenures in the Yankees' recent history seems to be over: John Flaherty might not be the backup catcher on the 2006 Yankees. Earlier this week, the Yanks signed onceuponatime Mets product Kelly Stinnett as their backup catcher for 2006.
Flaherty wielded one of the least productive bats in all of baseball last season. By Equivalent Average (one of BP's statistics) Flaherty was the worst player who got a chance to make 100 outs last year. (Actually, if you run the report on BP's sortable stats database, Miguel Olivo looks worse. But BP's DB separates the half-seasons of a player who played with more than one team in a year. Olivo, who was horrible in 156 PA with Seattle last year, redeemed himself in 119 PA with San Diego later in the year.) Flaherty's offensive shortcomings aren't news--in the three seasons prior to his arrival, Flaherty had EqAs of .216, .217, and .233, spread out over about 1,000 plate appearances.
Nonetheless, Flaherty held on to the backup job on perhaps the most competitive team in the American League, through a combination of bias and unexpected performance. Flaherty first got the job in 2003 due to Joe Torre's preference for catch-and-throw guys to back up Jorge Posada, and held on to it through an abysmal 2005 season by attaching himself to Randy Johnson as the Big Unit's personal backstop. Although Flaherty never cracked a .300 OBP as a Yankee, in 2003 and 2004 he showed a remarkable bit of pop in small samples, which translated to unprecedented (for his career) isolated power--ISO's of .190 and .213 after never cracking a .165 through his prime. Some of the big hits turned out to be timely, such as the hit that ended the July 1, 2004 game between the Yanks and Red Sox.
By signing Stinnett the Yanks are acknowledging--at least incrementally--that a vague sense of clutch and a winning personality is not enough to keep someone on the major league roster. A word of warning, however--just because the Yanks have signed someone else, doesn't necessarily mean that Flaherty's gone. You might recall that before Flaherty joined the Yankees, they had already signed Chris Widger to a contract to be their backup in 2003. Flaherty showed up in Spring Training, and impressed the brass enough that they ate the $600,000 or so they gave Widger, and gave Flaherty the same contract.
Still, it's hard not to see this as progress.