Jorge Posada has seen the tide whisk away plenty of aging stars in his 17-year career enough so that after Saturday's miserable performance at Fenway, an 0-for-4 that dropped his average to .232 since the All-Star break -- the Yankee veteran knew exactly why Joe Girardi asked him to step into the manager's office.
The conversation, though professional and polite, was strained, or as Girardi himself would later admit, "difficult." The time had come to replace Posada as the Yankees' designated hitter, a move that effectively ends his tenure in pinstripes. Although Girardi tried to soften the demotion's finality, telling Posada, "We still need you," it's hard to imagine any scenario that returns him to the everyday lineup, especially with Alex Rodriguez about to come off the disabled list.
Instead, Eric Chavez is emerging as a key commodity, going into Sunday night's game, a 3-2 loss to the Red Sox in 10 innings, with a .343 average (11-for-32) since returning from a back injury. With Chavez, Eduardo Nunez and A-Rod, there are enough options at third base and DH to keep Posada in the dugout for the rest of the season.
In fact, it's only Posada's legacy as a Core Four star that's keeping him on the roster. Without that history, the Yankees likely would've released him. As it is, Posada will spend the next few weeks in a state of invisibility.
"It's very disappointing," Posada said quietly. "You want to be out there but right now it's about winning games."
Posada added that he's "not happy" but there wasn't much anger in him, nothing like the fury that led to his outburst against Girardi back in May. Posada was so insulted at being dropped to the No. 9 spot in a nationally televised game against the Sox, he removed himself from the lineup an hour before the first pitch.
The ensuing argument with Girardi and General Manager Brian Cashman spiraled out of control, so heated that at one point Posada asked the Yankees to release him. It was an indefensible tantrum, but all sides eventually agreed to a truce, and for a while Girardi's clemency seemed genuine. The manager gave the soon-to-be 40-year-old slugger plenty of at-bats, hoping to create a path to renewed relevance.
But age and slowing reflexes are what they are, thieves that robbed Posada of his most valuable assets: getting on base and hitting left-handed pitching. That's a far cry from what the Yankees have seen in the last month, as Posada managed just a .309 on-base percentage and was 6 for 58 with no homers against southpaws.
Despite boasting the American League's No. 2 offense, the Yankees couldn't continue to live with a black hole in the DH spot, which ranked 11th in the league in batting average (.231), and 14th in OPS (.702). The more Posada struggled, the greater the temptation for the Yankees to summon Jesus Montero from Triple-A. A better choice, though, would be to keep A-Rod off the field and limit him to four to five at-bats a game.
There are two reasons that support Rodriguez's full-time conversion to DH. The first is the reduced wear and tear on his surgically repaired knee. Although he was playing terrific defense prior to going on the DL, A-Rod could be replaced satisfactorily by Nunez and Chavez.
The second factor is the Yankees' need for offense from A-Rod. He was only fourth on the team in home runs and OPS at the time he went on the DL, but first in singles. Obviously, the Steinbrenner family is expecting more for their $32 million a year. But at age 36, Rodriguez is more vulnerable than ever to injury and only would be risking further problems by playing third base regularly.
The Yankees say they're open to the idea of using Rodriguez at DH, although they'll want to see him in the field for a week or two before they come to any conclusion. Regardless of which path they choose, Posada will be left out. He says, "I'm going to come to the ballpark and be ready to play," but there wasn't much conviction in his promise. Without any day-to-day responsibility, Posada will have time to decide if he wants to retire as a Yankee, or look for a one-year contract in 2012 with another team interested in whatever residual power he has from the left side.
Either way, it's an inglorious final hour for one of the finest catchers in Yankee history, arguably a Hall of Fame candidate.
Posada has more RBI, home runs and hits than any other major league catcher since 2000, and is the only catcher in the game's history to hit .300 or better with 40 doubles, 20 home runs, and 90 RBI in a single season (2007).