Saturday, October 8, 2011

Jesus Can Save 2012 Yankees

For the second straight year, the New York Yankees were eliminated from a postseason baseball series on an Alex Rodriguez strikeout.

At least A-Rod swung and missed to end Game 5 of the 2011 American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers. He didn't go down with his bat on his right shoulder, as he did to end the 2010 AL Championship Series against the Texas Rangers.

Still, there is no joy in Yankeeville. Once again, mighty A-Rod has struck out.

But it's time to stop bashing the 36-year-old Rodriguez. Yes, he made $30 million for the 2011 season and hit a measly .111 (2-for-18) in the ALDS. But he wasn't the only high-priced underachiever on the Yankees -- sportsworld's most profitable franchise with a net worth of $1.6 billion.

Derek Jeter, 37, failed too often in the clutch against the Tigers. Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher, both 30, were downright awful against Detroit. And CC Sabathia, 30, was missing more than the periods in his name versus the Tigers. He lacked command of his fastball. And he allowed mediocre hitters like Brandon Inge and Ramon Santiago to beat him in Game 3.

It's time for the Yankees to get younger and more athletic, and the key to that infusion is 21-year-old Jesus Montero (pictured left). A powerfully built right-handed hitter with a quick bat, Jesus needs to become a regular in 2012.

Jesus has the potential to become a Mike Piazza-type catcher -- a consistent offensive threat with adequate defensive skills. Russell Martin, 30, the incumbent catcher, is a .230 hitter. He simply doesn't provide enough offense to start 130 games in 2012.

But if the Yankees are insistent that Martin play regularly, then they need to bench Swisher (sorry, ladies) or refuse to pick up his option for 2012 and instead convert Jesus into a right fielder.

Right field is the easiest of the three outfield positions to play at Yankee Stadium, and Jesus has a strong-enough arm to make the transition.

After being called up from the minor leagues in September, Jesus was not overmatched against major league pitching. Indeed, he showed the maturity to hit outside pitches to right field with authority, and he handled fastballs inside like a veteran.

All Jesus needs is regular playing time to become a power-hitting threat in the middle of the Yankees' lineup -- exactly what A-Rod used to be.

And Jesus might just become the postseason clutch hitter that the Yankees need. In the last several years, we've learned that A-Rod, Teixeira, Swisher and the aging Jeter are not up to the task.

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