The Yankees are almost there, but they still could use a backup catcher and reserve outfielder. Two highly regarded veteran free agents can do the trick.
The Yankees are uncharacteristically stubborn in their insistence that Kyle Higashioka is capable of doing the job left vacant by Austin Romine as their backup catcher.
Similarly, the Yankees have been just as insistent that one day Aaron Hicks will walk planet earth, let alone centerfield at Yankee Stadium, one hundred percent healthy.
Brian Cashman may never say it, but Higashioka is on the team only because he is out of options, and he can no longer ride the Bronx to Scranton express at the whim of the organization.
With Hicks, the Yankees believe because they have no other choice after they signed Hicks to a generous seven-year deal for $70 million last Spring.
And yet, the Yankees are not an organization that allows themselves to be backed into a corner, especially when faced with alternatives offering better solutions.
Yankees – Look And Do Touch
Free agents Russell Martin and Hunter Pence do not have a job for the 2020 season. They’re both veterans – no check that – let’s say it like it is – they’re both old ballplayers with pretty good resumes, both on and off the field.
Martin is the easiest as a fit on the Yankees, so we’ll take him first. At 36, Russell Martin is no longer the starting catcher he was when he was with the Yankees for two seasons, one of which he made the All-Star team in 2011.
In 2019, Martin caught nearly 500 innings for the Dodgers, committing only two errors. He is a noted framer of pitches, but he has slid in runners caught stealing to 18%.
Catching once a week, Martin will not hurt the team, and he still has some pop in his bat.
The gravy days of big contracts are over for Russell Martin, and if he doesn’t know it, that might be the main reason he hasn’t been signed. A chance to earn a World Series ring with the Yankees on a one-year $2 million deal might suffice.
Yankees: Put Them In Coach – They Can Play
Hunter Pence may be the first player ever to make the All-Star team one year, only to be unemployed the following season.
The extent of Pence’s desire and joy to play baseball took him to the Dominican Independent League and the Toros del Este team in 2018 to prove himself.
He did, and the Texas Rangers saw fit to sign him to a one-year $2 million contract.
In turn, Pence responded for the Rangers by batting just under .300, adding 18 home runs, a .910 OPS, and even six steals.
At 36, Pence can still hit a lick, and for the chance to play with the Yankees and the opportunity for a last hurrah and an appearance in a World Series, Pence might offer the Yankees a contract to add him to the team.
But if the Yankees are going to act, time is of the essence as the San Francisco Chronicle is reporting the Giants to have a keen interest in reuniting with old friend Pence.
Intangibles Are Everything
Both Martin and Pence bring the intangibles the Yankees also look for and insist on a player having before bringing them into their clubhouse.
The Yankees clubhouse has no drama with the roster they currently have, so any additions must protect the peace. In this case, if it’s possible, Russell and Pence might even add to the cohesion.
Aaron Hicks is lost for at least the first half of the season, and I wouldn’t take any bets on his ability to stay off the IL after that. A look-see on Pence can’t hurt; it can only help.
With Higashioka, the Yankees can easily trade him to get at least something back. The Mets, who have yet to do anything about their glaring need for a backup to Wilson Ramos, are at least one potential suitor. Or, they can simply release Higashioka.
Yankees: What Can It Hurt?
Thou can tinker too much – I get that. But the first pitch of the season has yet to be thrown. The Yankees can and should be, in a more the merrier mode for now.
There is ample time for roster paring. And who can promise the Yankees will not repeat the horror of last year when Aaron Boone was forced daily to juggle his lineup due to injuries to key players?
Neither Russell Martin or Hunter Pence will make or break the Yankees in 2020. Role players, however, can make all the difference.
Recall, for instance, the contributions made by Ronald Torreyes, Homer Bush, Luis Sojo, and countless more who didn’t make a difference – until they did.
The resume of Brian Cashman suggests he is not blind to Martin and Pence. Just in case he’s forgotten them though, this is a reminder to engage in a re-visit…