By Ernie Palladino
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Youth movements like the one the Yankees have begun can be exciting and, in a very short time, productive.
But a roster still needs some veteran leadership. And if that leadership can contribute consistently with the bat, so much the better.
That’s why the Yanks must hang on to veteran catcher Brian McCann over the offseason.
Whether McCann suddenly gets hot and sparks Joe Girardi’s on-again, off-again lineup to playoff status, or whether he simply plugs along in tandem with the exciting rookie backstop Gary Sanchez the rest of the way, the 32-year-old McCann stands to become an elder statesman.
A manager needs at least one of those guys who has seen it all, done it all, to slow everybody else down when the fan whirls at 100 mph. And the way things are stacking up for the 2017 roster, the Yanks won’t have that person.
Consider: Alex Rodriguez is gone, jettisoned with a rainy but nice ceremony a couple of Fridays ago.
Mark Teixeira, all-around good guy and cool head, retires at season’s end.
Carlos Beltran went bye-bye at the trade deadline. And don’t be surprised if Brian Cashman sends Brett Gardner packing in the offseason for another handful of prospects.
Given that, it’s hard to see Chase Headley or injury-prone Jacoby Ellsbury leading young veterans Didi Gregorious and Starlin Castro and still-raw kids such as Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Tyler Austin and maybe even the young slugger Clint Frazier into the thick of a division race.
He offers daily left-handed power, either at catcher or DH. Meanwhile, Sanchez can slip in at either spot with his right-handed power.
If Sanchez continues to advance defensively, Girardi would be right in his recent proclamation to the New York Post that Sanchez/McCann would give the Yanks the best catching duo in the game.
It’s not like Cashman wouldn’t have an extra backstop around as trade bait. Austin Romine might fetch something for someone looking for a solid backup. He won’t bring the windfall McCann might. But again, who would you rather have as a veteran leader — McCann or Romine?
While we’re at it, let’s eliminate any thoughts of dealing the 23-year-old Sanchez. The way he’s playing lately, the Cashman of the old George Steinbrenner era might have been lining up offers for him.
But as a key component of a youth movement, there’s no way Sanchez’s rookie heat will warm some other team his sophomore season. Not with the resume he’s building.
He has already become an American League Player of the Week for hitting .523, with four homers, six RBIs, four runs scored and a steal in six games last week. He’s only the second Yankees catcher to win it next to the great Thurman Munson in 1976.
He followed that up with two homers against Seattle on Monday.
Sanchez is not going anywhere short of Cashman suffering from a severe case of Boss-fueled nostalgia.
It’s not that McCann has had a standout Yankees career. Spotty hitting has drawn him criticism at times. But splitting catcher and DH duties with Sanchez would keep McCann a lot fresher.
The fact that McCann made a willing, seamless transition from everyday catcher to catcher/DH showed the kind of leadership the Yanks will need next year.
It’s nice to have the kids. But the one veteran voice who can settle things down is important, too.
Which is why the Yanks should hang onto McCann.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino