The Yankees were surely glad to have some catching depth when Jose Trevino needed season-ending wrist surgery just after the All-Star break. Kyle Higashioka took over the starting role, while Ben Rortvedt earned a call back to the majors to serve as the backup. When Rortvedt struggled to hit big league pitching, the team had more depth at Triple-A in the name of Austin Wells, who ended up earning the bulk of the starts behind the plate over the final month of the season.
With Trevino progressing well in his rehab, the Yankees are set to have four catchers competing for playing time next season. Trevino will likely return to his regular role, and Wells played ably enough to merit a spot on the Opening Day roster. That leaves Higashioka and Rortvedt on the outside looking in. Higashioka has been a capable backup in New York for several years, but he is a finished product and a known quantity. Rortvedt, meanwhile, will be 26 next season, and he hasn’t shown an ability to hit at the MLB level.
Therefore, it comes as little surprise that the Yankees could look to deal either or both of Higashioka and Rortvedt this offseason. According to Andy Martino of SNY, the team is “signaling” to other clubs that both catchers are available in a trade.
Higashioka is the longest-tenured player on the Yankees, having joined the organization in 2008 and played for the club in every MLB season since 2017. The 33-year-old has earned more regular playing time over the past two years, appearing in 175 games and starting 143 behind the dish. While his bat is below average, even for a catcher, his terrific defense makes up for his offensive shortcomings. The metrics from Baseball Savant, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus all agree that he is an excellent pitch framer, saving several runs with his glove in each of the past three seasons.
The veteran is eligible for his final year of arbitration this winter and is projected to earn $2.3MM. That’s hardly more than a drop in the bucket for the Yankees, but still, they might try to trade him before the non-tender deadline, to avoid making a decision about tendering him a contract for next season. He would be a good fit for a team in search of a veteran stopgap to fill in behind the plate until a top prospect is ready to take his place. The White Sox, who have already expressed interest in trading for a veteran catcher (namely Salvador Perez), could be a match.
Rortvedt made his debut for the Yankees this past May, after coming over from the Twins last March as part of the deal that brought Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa to New York in exchange for Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela. While the Yankees intended for him to compete for playing time with Higashioka and Trevino, he spent the first four months of the 2022 season on the injured list before he was optioned to Triple-A without having played a game. The 2023 campaign marked his third and final option year, and thus, he cannot be sent to the minors next season without being designated for assignment and placed on outright waivers.
Like Higashioka, Rortvedt has demonstrated an aptitude for pitch framing, but unfortunately, his bat has been nonexistent at the big league level. In 171 plate appearances across 2021 and ’23, he has hit just .146 with seven extra-base knocks, good for a career 38 wRC+. The offensive bar is low for backup catchers, but he’ll need to hit more if he wants to stick around in the majors. He would fit in best as a backup on a rebuilding club that can afford to give him a chance to prove himself, despite his substandard offensive production so far. The Mets will need a backup catcher if they choose to move on from Omar Narváez, as will the Tigers if they don’t exercise their option on Carson Kelly.
Martino also mentions that trading Trevino or Wells isn’t off the table for the Yankees, although it’s much more likely they deal Higashioka or Rortvedt instead. Wells would net the most valuable return, while the team could move on from Trevino if they think Wells is ready for a full-time role.