It has been same old, same old for the Yankees at catcher for a long time. Jorge Posada was the guy, has been the guy, since 1998 and you knew what you were getting: passable defense, so-so throwing and a bat that (mostly) made you forget about the rest of it.
This year it changes. Bernie Williams is long gone. Andy Pettitte is home in Houston. Derek Jeter, Posada's best buddy on the team, is already hearing talk about where he hits in the lineup and what position he plays once he's done at shortstop. The only thing that is still the same is Mariano Rivera in the ninth and, well, there's only one superhuman per team, please.
So Posada goes. For the first time in his career he will show up in Tampa in a few days as a designated hitter, show up knowing he won't be behind the plate six days a week for the Yankees anymore. For a team with the expectations the Yankees have and for a position as important as the one Posada plays, it is as big a sea change as a team can have.
For a while, it looked like the Yankees were going to turn the mask over to Jesus Montero, prospect of the century. That turned out to be as realistic as Bubba Crosby's being the starting center fielder after Williams left town, and it wasn't all that long before veteran Russell Martin was suddenly handed the job.
Say this for Martin, who is already working out at the Yankees complex: He is saying the right things. In an interview with a few reporters on Tuesday, Martin was humble, telling the writers, "You have to prove yourself out there. I have to prove myself to the pitchers. The guys are going to have to like throwing to me. If they don't like throwing to me, I'm not going to catch."
That, of course, was one of the issues that would pop up with Posada, particularly come October. Inevitably, it seemed, someone ended up using a different catcher, whether it was Randy Johnson or Mike Mussina or, most recently, A.J. Burnett. Those issues, and the ramifications that came with benching Posada's bat in one of the biggest games of the season, only intensified the public discussion about when Posada would become a DH.
And now he is. Martin, who was an All-Star in 2007 and 2008 but was mostly a disaster in 2009 and 2010, is currently recovering from December knee surgery and had last season derailed by a hip injury. He told reporters on Tuesday that he lost 15 pounds during the winter and has been working with a trainer who also trains mixed martial arts fighters to get himself in the best shape possible.
"Those guys, of all the sports, they have to be in the best shape," Martin said of the MMA fighters. "Because if they're not in shape, they get tired, they get beat up. So it's like, they have to be tiptop. You want that way in any sport. You want to push your body to its maximum potential."
Whatever. February and March are for optimism and Martin will hardly be the only player to rave about his regimen. The larger issue is whether Martin will actually be the defensive upgrade that Posada's critics have been demanding, whether he'll be able to get from the Yankees pitchers the results that (for the most part) Posada was able to coax.
Changing catchers is not like changing first basemen or outfielders. Catchers are involved in every single play of every single game they are on the field for, and that is something that shouldn't be taken lightly. For all the criticism Posada took, particularly over the past few seasons, the Yankees generally knew what they were getting.
Now they don't. Was it time to move on? It was. But don't undersell the pressure that Martin faces. He fully admits he's not yet 100 % so first he has to get healthy. Then he has to shine.
Change lingers over the Yankees this season. After 13 years, it isn't same old, same old at catcher anymore.