The catcher may be the most important player on the field, he's the only on with the entire game in front of him, and his handling of the pitcher is sometimes more important than the pitcher himself. But the toll the position's duties take on the body are unmatched by any position in baseball; you need not look any further than Mike Piazza or Ivan Rodriguez for proof. Historically, around age 33 catchers really start to show their age and essentially turn into pumpkins. Yankee stalwart Jorge Posada is on the wrong side of 33 (he'll turn 35 this August) and even worse, there's no one in the farm system to replace him.
It's become almost a foregone conclusion that Jorge will make the 63 appearances behind the plate necessary to guarantee the $12M option in his contract for 2007. At that point, he'll essentially become untradeable. The free agent market following 2006 isn't the most exciting when it comes to catchers, with Doug Mirabelli, Rod Barajas, and an aging Javy Lopez as the sexiest names. The 2007 class is a bit better, when guys like Jason Kendall, Jason LaRue, Paul LoDuca and Michael Barrett should be available barring contract extensions, but all of those guys will be on the wrong side of 33 by then (except Barrett, who'll be 31).
The most ideal situation would be to bring a young catcher up and gradually work him into the rigors of everyday catching at the ML level over 2-3 seasons. Posada underwent a similar "breaking in" period behind Joe Girardi, not taking over full-time catching duties until the 2000 season. As I stated earlier, there's no one in the farm system that has the look of being an everyday catcher.
David Parrish, the Yanks first round pick in 2000, is already 26 and has only 380 ABs above Double-A under his belt, during which he posted an unremarkable .252-.315-.350-.665 line. Tommy Rojas has a chance to become a decent catcher, but the 908th overall pick in 2000 is already 23 and is slowly working his way up the ladder, spending at least a year at each level before moving up (he played at High-A Tampa in 2005). Omir Santos may be the best hope from within the organization, but he's already 24 and posted a .654 OPS in Double-A Trenton in 2005. Yeah, the catching depth in the system is that bad.
So unless there's a miracle on 161st Street, Posada's eventual successor will have to come from outside the organization. That's where this guy comes in: Kelly Shoppach. The former Red Sox top pick (48th overall in 2001) was included in the Coco Crisp-Ande Marte swap 2 weeks ago, and the soon to be 26 year old is ready to begin his "break in" period right now. Shoppach's problem is that Indians already have their franchise catcher in 27 year old Victor Martinez, as well as a great hitter in 25 year old Ryan Garko who's set to crack the big leagues in a big way very, very soon.
Shoppach can hit, as he owns a career .819 OPS and has averaged 26 HR and 63 RBIs per 162 games in his 3 minor league seasons. Even though he isn't a great hitter for average, he gets on base well (his career OBP is roughly 100 points higher than his career BA) and is solid defensively. He is very good at handling pitchers and an awesome clubhouse guy. His name has popped up in trade rumors constantly in the last year, with reports of him heading to the Rockies, Devil Rays and Diamondbacks surfacing, all to be squashed one way or the other. When he finally was dealt to Cleveland, it was a bit of a surprise to some because of Martinez's presence.
Now, the Indians are not going to give Shoppach away just because he's essentially a spare part, but they certainly could use some bullpen help and possibly another outfielder. Would a package of Eduardo Nunez and J. Brent Cox be enough to get Shoppach? Maybe, but Cashman has already said he has big plans for Cox. More realistically, a package featuring Tanyon Sturtze and someone like Bubba Crosby or Melky Cabrera could be enough to land Shoppach, and possibly even another prospect.
Even though Indians GM Mark Shapiro maintains that he is looking towards the future, his team is ready to contend now. They would benefit most from having a veteran leader like Einar Diaz (signed to a minor league deal by Cleveland) backup Martinez rather than a rookie like Shoppach.
If a trade does go down, Shoppach could start the season in Triple-A to work out some kinks, then come up after the All-Star break and catch 30-40 during the second half. Posada could make appearances at DH or 1B just to stay in the lineup, but he'd be in better shape physically come playoff time.
Other names that could be interesting as far as potential Posada successor's include Atlanta's Brian McCann (he's just keeping the spot warm for Jarrod Saltalamacchia), Texas' Gerald Laird, Pittsburgh's Ryan Doumit (he'll be expendable once Neil Walker hits the bigs) or one of Arizona's Koyie Hill and Chris Snyder (they don't need both with Johnny Estrada now on board).
One things for sure, the Yanks had better have a plan as far as Posada's successor, because this could become a monumental problem as soon as June or July.