The Yankees made the right move. There isn’t a back-up catcher on this planet worth $18 million for one season. But Austin Romine is not expendable…
The Yankees, unless they act first, should not be surprised if Austin Romine is one of the first players to be plucked off the free-agent market this winter.
No harm, no foul. Romine has been with the Yankees since 2011 and has finally dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s, making him eligible for free agency. Back up catchers are a dime a dozen, and Romine should feel lucky to have amassed the time toward his retirement money – right?
Romine checks all the backup boxes
And maybe Romine feels fortunate that way – but that’s not what matters here. There are back-up catchers, and then there are back-up catchers. Romine fits in the latter category.
Backup catchers in baseball are like Assistant Managers in retail stores and operations. They have a title and a job – but it all ends there. They get to work weekends, and whenever the Manager says – “I need you to work today.”
They get to know their supporting staff (pitchers), calling a game as best they know-how, but understanding there is nothing permanent in any “relationship” they may establish with Pitcher A or B.
The Yankees have a back-up catcher on their roster to replace Romine. The New York Yankees drafted Kyle Higashioka in the 7th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft from Edison HS (Huntington Beach, CA).
Since 2017, he has appeared in 56 games, averaging .164 with a .212 on-base percentage.
Despite this small sample size, how high can Higashioka’s upside possibly be?
The risk of relying on Higashioka would be lessened if the Yankees had any one of the fourteen catchers who played in more games than Gary Sanchez last year. Instead, Sanchez’s penchant for injury means Higashioka’s workload with the Yankees is likely to increase by 40% from his three year total with the team to around 70 games in 2020.
Yankees – place your bets
Austin Romine is by far a better bet. But – yes, there’s always a but – is it Romine’s intent to find a team where he can be their regular catcher. Or, is he satisfied with the status and value he has attained with the Yankees as a back-up catcher. And second, do the Yankees wish to re-sign him?
A bird in the hand is worth two in a bush is the saying, and it works for the Yankees in the case of Romine. He knows the pitching staff and is a positive influence in the clubhouse.
Romine has yet to make $2 million in a season as a Yankee. A three-year deal worth $8 million is not going to break the Yankees bank or infringe on their goal to keep the luxury taxes under control. Note: The Yankees are almost sure to exceed the $208 million tax threshold in 2020.
In the meantime, the Yankees ever-forgiving allegiance to Gary Sanchez took on new form yesterday when the team hired Tanner Swanson to the Yankees’ big league coaching staff as the catching and quality control coach.
Swanson’s first assignment is to make Sanchez a big-league catcher, no matter what the team and others have yet to be successful in doing.
Romine is a corner piece of the team puzzle
Re-signing Romine is not Brian Cashman’s priority this offseason. But it needs to be on his to-do list. There is no one in the Yankee’s farm system ready to leap to the big club besides Hiagashioka.
Austin Romine gives the team one less thing to worry about. He’s reliable and amenable to his role with the Yankees.
A wrinkle in the Romine strategy is that Hiagashioka is out of options, meaning if the Yankees send him down, he refuses the assignment to become a free agent.
But in this case, the fear of losing Romine (permanently) is of more significant consequence…
Austin Romine behind the scenes – Life of a back-up catcher