Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine have comprised the Yankees’ top two catchers over the past couple seasons. But now that Romine is a free agent, the alignment could change in 2020. However, the Yankees have shown interest in keeping that tandem together. They’ve discussed a new contract with Romine’s agent, Bill Rose of Moye Sports Associates, per Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. It’s unclear whether the two sides have made progress in their talks, but if an agreement doesn’t come together, the Yankees would be comfortable turning to the out-of-options Kyle Higashioka as their backup, according to Hoch.
The soon-to-be 31-year-old Romine is part of a free-agent class of catchers that lacks clear-cut starters after Yasmani Grandal, Jason Castro, Travis d’Arnaud and Robinson Chirinos. Whether a catcher-needy team would sign Romine and give him a shot to start remains to be seen, though he has been a legitimately solid offensive backstop of late. Romine’s bat was borderline unplayable in the majors from 2011-17, but over the past two seasons, he slashed .262/.305/.471 across 505 plate appearances. Defensively, he threw out at least 26 percent of would-be base-stealers in each of those years, placing him around league average. Romine also graded well as an overall defender by Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average metric in 2018, but he did experience a significant drop-off in that regard this past season.
If the Yankees do retain Romine, there’s no doubt he’ll continue playing second fiddle to Sanchez. While Sanchez has drawn heat from Yankees fans and some who cover the team – particularly for his struggles blocking pitches – general manager Brian Cashman lavished praise on the big-hitting 26-year-old at this week’s GM meetings, according to Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. Cashman acknowledged that Sanchez drew trade interest last offseason, but he doesn’t expect it to happen again this winter because teams know the Yankees aren’t going to deal him.
“I think we have a distinct advantage by having Gary Sanchez as our everyday catcher,” Cashman said. “And I know many in the industry feel the same way by their attempts last year, these extremely smart teams trying to see if they can get their hands on him. They’re not going to ask this year because everybody saw the numbers behind the numbers from last year and they know what he’s capable of. They know he’s a huge difference-maker being able to run him out there behind the plate.”
It’s hard to argue with Cashman, as Sanchez – despite whatever flaws he may have – is an effective player whose three remaining years of control and affordability (he’s projected to earn a reasonable $5.6MM in 2020) add to his appeal. Sanchez slashed .232/.316/.525 with 34 home runs in 446 PA in 2019 en route to 3.1 bWAR/2.3 fWAR. Injuries held Sanchez to 106 games, but he’ll try for a healthier 2020, and it seems like a guarantee that he’ll still be in a Yankees uniform then.