2016 Midseason Review: The Catchers

Now that the All-Star break has arrived, it’s time to look back and review the first half of the season. We start today with the catchers. The Yankees know a thing or two about quality backstops, historically.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees came into the season with an open spot behind the plate. Not the starter, of course. Veteran Brian McCann is entrenched as the team’s No. 1 backstop. The backup job was open following the trade of John Ryan Murphy, and for most of the winter it seemed top prospect Gary Sanchez would be the guy. Trade Murphy to clear a spot for Sanchez? Makes perfect sense.

That’s not what happened, however. Austin Romine beat out Sanchez for the job, just one year after being designated for assignment and passing through waivers unclaimed. Romine out-performed Sanchez in Spring Training, and the fact Sanchez had minor league options and Romine did not surely factored into the decision as well. McCann and Romine have been the team’s duo behind the plate all season. Let’s review their first half of 2016.

Brian McCann: Steadily Unspectacular

It really does look like McCann’s first year in pinstripes was an adjustment period. He hit .232/.286/.406 (93 wRC+) with 23 home runs that first season in New York, which is really good for a catcher, but I think that was a notch below expectations. The last two years have been much better, especially the first halves. Here are McCann’s first half numbers the last three years:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR BB% K%
2014 330 .239/.294/.377 88 10 6.4% 14.8%
2015 290 .259/.331/.471 117 14 8.3% 18.6%
2016 274 .248/.347/.462 115 14 11.7% 19.7%

Much, much better the last two years. McCann has never not hit for power, especially with the Yankees, but now the walks have returned, boosting his OBP. He’s retained his ability to hold his own against lefties as well, hitting .235/.316/.451 (103 wRC+) against southpaws in the first half. McCann came to the Yankees having not hit left-handers in years. He’s now put up good numbers against them all three seasons in pinstripes.

The offense has been more than fine relative to the position. Defensively though, it seems McCann’s game has taken a step back this year. First and foremost, he’s thrown out only 13 of 54 basestealers, or 24.1%. That’s down from 36.8% the last two years. The Yankees parted ways with bullpen catcher Gary Tuck over the winter, and McCann credited Tuck for improving his throwing — he threw out 24.1% of basestealers his last two years with Atlanta — so his departure may explain the decline.

Both StatCorner and Baseball Prospectus rate McCann as one of the top pitch-framers in the game, so nothing has changed there. Blocking balls in the dirt seems to be a real problem though, and there’s no real way to quantify that. McCann has allowed four passed balls and 16 wild pitches, and, uh, so? That doesn’t help us. Those numbers don’t reflect the balls that get by even though the runner doesn’t advance, or McCann’s technique. We’ve seen a few of these this year:

Brian McCann block

Pitch in the dirt, McCann stabs at it instead of getting his body in front of it, and the ball hops away. That particular pitch went in the books as a wild pitch and is thus blamed on the pitcher, but did McCann put himself in the best possible position to block that ball? Not really. I feel like that’s been happening more often this year than it did the last two years.

Now, McCann is 32 and he’s got over 11,000 big league innings behind the plate on his legs, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that his mobility is not what it once was. It’s easy for me to sit here and say McCann has let some balls get by because he didn’t go down and square them up with his chest protector, but there’s a self-preservation aspect to this as well. Jumping around and going to your knees all the time probably isn’t such a great idea for a guy with all that wear and tear on his legs.

Overall, McCann has again been rock solid for the Yankees in the first half, especially on offense. He’s been an above-average hitter thanks to his walks and power, he’s picked up several big hits …

… and he’s been good behind the plate defensively. As good as he’s been in the past? I don’t think so. But he’s not Jesus Montero back there either. McCann, who was hampered by toe and elbow injuries at times in the first half, is doing exactly what the Yankees need him to do. Provide some pop and be a steadying presence behind the plate.

Second Half Outlook: McCann, like many Yankees, struggled big time down the stretch last season. He plays a grueling position and fatigue is inevitable, but obviously the team hopes to avoid a repeat. It’s imperative if they want to make a run at a postseason spot. Extra rest — McCann has started 62 of 88 games behind the dish — could be in the cards.

Austin Romine: Latest Backup Catcher Factory Product

I’m starting to think the Yankees can pull someone out of the bleachers and turn him into a quality backup catcher. Romine is the club’s third homegrown backup catcher in the last three years, and all three have been rock solid or better. Here’s the list:

2016 Austin Romine: .265/.278/.441 (80 wRC+)
2015 John Ryan Murphy: .277/.327/.406 (99 wRC+)
2014 Francisco Cervelli: .301/.370/432 (130 wRC+)

Romine has been the worst hitter of the three overall because he hasn’t matched Murphy’s or Cervelli’s on-base ability. He has hit for way more power though, mostly in the form of doubles. In fact, Romine has nine doubles on the season, the same number as McCann in 40% of the plate appearances.

The league average catcher is hitting .239/.308/.385 (84 wRC+) this season, and man, I wish there was an easy way to calculate the average line for backup catchers, because it would be way lower than that. In a vacuum, Romine has been a below-average hitter. In the world of backup catchers, he’s been very good. That bar is extremely low.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Defensively, the numbers say Romine has been pretty poor behind the plate. StatCorner and Baseball Prospectus rate his framing as average at best, basestealers are 12-for-14 (!) against him, and he’s allowed nine passed pitches in only 227.1 innings. Yikes. He hasn’t seemed nearly that bad to me. I was surprised to see such poor throwing and passed ball/wild pitch numbers.

Look at the numbers and wow, Romine looks bad on both sides of the ball. I guess he’s appeared to be better watching him play — at least to me — because expectations were so low. Romine didn’t hit at all in 2013, his only other extended stretch in the big leagues, and again, this is guy who went unclaimed on waivers last spring. It seemed he was only keeping the backup job warm for Sanchez, but he got off to a nice start and has kept the job.

The Yankees traded Cervelli after 2014 and Murphy after 2015. Will they trade Romine after 2016? Maybe! Sanchez is looming, after all. For now he’s done an okay job as McCann’s backup — Romine’s .286/.305/.464 (95 wRC+) line against lefties has made him a fine platoon option — and allowed the Yankees to remain patient with Sanchez by giving him more time to work on his defense in Triple-A.

Second Half Outlook: Romine has been good, but not so good that he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder. Sanchez has had a strong Triple-A season, and if the Yankees do decide to throw in the towel and sell, giving Sanchez a bunch of starts in the second half would make sense. Romine would be the odd man out in that situation.

Game 56: Sabathia Sunday

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Who would have guessed coming into the season that CC Sabathia would be one of the Yankees’ steadiest and most effective starters? He’s pitching to the best case scenario, basically. A 2.85 ERA (3.19 FIP) is vintage Sabathia stuff. It’s been a few years since I’ve looked forward to Sabathia starts. This is pretty cool. CC is definitely one the team’s biggest bright spots this season. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 1B Rob Refsnyder
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    LHP CC Sabathia

It was raining in Baltimore much of the morning and the forecast says it’s going to pour later this afternoon. It looks like there will be a long enough window to get the game in though, so that’s good. First pitch is scheduled for 1:35pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Austin Romine (thumb) was able to hit today and is available if necessary … Chasen Shreve (shoulder) threw off flat ground again yesterday. He’s going to rest today then throw long toss tomorrow. Joe Girardi confirmed Shreve will go out on a minor league rehab assignment before being activated off the DL, which is no surprise.

Romine’s hot start allows the Yankees to be patient with Gary Sanchez

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s hard to believe that only a year ago, Austin Romine went unclaimed on waivers and seemed to be nearing the end of his time with the Yankees. Heck, it was only seven months ago that he looked like a candidate to lose his 40-man roster spot whenever the Yankees needed room. Romine’s time in the organization was about to come to an end after nine seasons.

Except it didn’t come to an end. The Yankees managed to hang on to Romine over the winter and he came to Spring Training as a backup catcher candidate. No one seemed to think he would actually win the job after Gary Sanchez‘s monster 2015 season, but the Yankees insisted he was in the mix, and eventually he did indeed win the job. Sanchez struggled in camp, Romine raked, and that was that.

“There was a lot of talk that (Sanchez would) be the backup, and we were encouraged with how he played last year, but it’s probably a guy trying too hard and trying to do too much,” said Joe Girardi last week when asked about Sanchez’s spring. “That happens all the time. The key is that you learn from that — like an Austin Romine did — and that you just go out and relax and be yourself.”

Six weeks into the regular season, it’s hard to think that decision could have worked out any better. The 27-year-old Romine is hitting .303/.324/.424 (104 wRC+) in limited time as Brian McCann‘s backup while Sanchez remains in Triple-A, playing every day to continue his development, especially defensively. Sanchez owns a .297/.345/.550 (163 wRC+) batting line with the RailRiders.

We spent so much time talking about keeping Sanchez down in the minors long enough to delay his free agency. Thirty-five days. That was the magic number. Thirty-five days in the minors in 2016 meant team control of Sanchez’s age 29 season in 2022. That’s a very long way off and no one has any idea what will happen between now and then, but 35 days? It was worth keeping Sanchez in the minors that long this year to gain that extra year of control.

Those 35 days have come and gone, and Romine has not given the Yankees a reason to make a change at backup catcher. On day 33 Romine went 3-for-4 with two doubles against David Price and the Red Sox while leading Nathan Eovaldi through eight innings of two-run ball. A few days later he started at DH because he’s been hitting so well. Romine was going to have to hit to keep his job. He’s credited his success to a change in his mental approach.

“I went home in the offseason and said I’m done not doing the best that I can,” he said to Laura Albanese last week. “You get passed up (for a job) by another catcher … It just makes me step back and realize what I needed to do, and that was hit. It comes down to the same thing. I’ve got to hit. I’ve got to show them I can hit up here, show them I can hit off big league pitchers and continue to show them I can catch.”

Romine has hit well and he has seemed to work well with the pitching staff, so much so that he’s essentially become Eovaldi’s personal catcher. The hitting success very well might be small sample size noise. That stuff happens. But Romine was going to have to hit in Spring Training to win a job and hit early in the regular season to keep that job, and he did just that. This is one of those cases where a small sample means a whole lot.

“Just being able to slow the game (down),” said Romine to Chad Jennings when asked what has made him successful this year. “I’ve been here. I’ve been in this situation before. I know how to prepare for hitting every four, five days. Being the backup catcher you get to play once a series, maybe. Being able to prepare myself to hit, going on a couple days now, it’s a hard thing to do. But it’s just being able to slow the game down.”

So now, with Romine emerging as serviceable backup catcher (if not more) rather than settling in a stopgap, the Yankees have some options. First and foremost, they have the option to remain patient with Sanchez and leave him in Triple-A. Not for service time reasons, but for developmental reasons. Sanchez is still only 23, remember. He’s 23 and still in need of refinement behind the plate. He can play everyday in Triple-A and work on things.

Also, Romine’s combination of strong play, cheap salary ($556,000), and years of team control (through 2019) means he may have some actual trade value. A year ago this guy slipped though waivers unclaimed. Any team could have had him and they all passed. Now, a year later, Romine is a productive big leaguer who seems to have turned a corner with his mental approach and preparation. And it helps that he plays the most premium position of all.

The Yankees have made a habit of trading backup catchers in recent years. They sent Chris Stewart to the Pirates for Kyle Haynes two years ago, Francisco Cervelli to the Pirates for Justin Wilson one year ago, and this past winter John Ryan Murphy went to the Twins for Aaron Hicks. Can Romine bring back a Wilson or a Hicks in a trade? Nah, probably not. Cervelli was an established big league backup catcher and Murphy had a full year as a productive backup to his credit and is three years younger.

Romine for all we know is a guy who just had the six best weeks of his career. He’s appeared in 15 games and has 35 plate appearances. That’s it. I do buy his change in approach because he does look different at the plate. Romine is swinging at way fewer pitches out of the zone this year than he did in 2013 (36.3% to 31.4%), his only other extended trial in MLB, and his hard contact rate is up too (29.4% to 37.0%). For the first time, he looks like someone who knows he belongs.

For now, Romine has performed better than anyone could have reasonably hoped in the early going this season, and that’s great news for the Yankees. I get that people are eager to see Sanchez, I am too, but Romine has given the Yankees no reason to make a change. Two quality backup catchers is better than one, after all. At some point the Yankees will have to pick between the two. Right now they can be patient. There’s no urgency to make a decision because Romine had made himself in an asset.

Yankeemetrics: Two out of three ain’t bad [May 6-8]

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

”Hicks hit one to the sticks! Aaron hammers one!”
In a season where we’ve come to expect the unexpected, the Yankees got a much-needed victory — and jolt of optimism — after toppling the Red Sox, 3-2, on Friday night. The win might have been one of the most unlikely in this long and storied rivalry, for a few reasons.

It was the first time ever that the Yankees allowed at least 13 hits and held the Red Sox to no more than two runs in a game at Yankee Stadium (old or new). The last time it happened in a game in New York between these rivals was Sept. 24, 1919 at the Polo Grounds.

Yet, even before the first pitch was thrown, this game already carried the “rare and unusual” label. The last time theses teams entered a series matchup where the Yankees were in sole possession of last place in the AL East while the Red Sox were in sole possession of first place (at least one month into the season) was Aug. 31, 1990.

The improbable theme continued when Aaron Hicks — who had three singles in his first 34 at-bats this season — delivered the game-winning shot when he led off the seventh inning with a solo homer to break a 2-2 tie. Two other Yankee center fielders in the last 30 years have hit a go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium: Jacoby Ellsbury (2015) and Bernie Williams (2003).

That might not have even been the game’s most dramatic moment, though. Fast-forward to the ninth inning when Andrew Miller found himself protecting a one-run lead with the bases loaded and one out and Big Papi at the plate. Miller prevailed in that epic showdown with Ortiz, striking him out looking, and then sealed the win after getting Hanley Ramirez to whiff for the final out.

The only other Yankee pitcher in the last 75 years to strike out the final two batters of any game with the bases loaded and while protecting a one-run lead was David Robertson on Aug. 12, 2013 against the Angels. That day, D-Rob whiffed Mark Trumbo and Chris Nelson to earn the save and clinch a 2-1 win for the Bombers.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Back-to-back (and belly-to-belly)
Breaking news: The Yankees have a win streak.

Less than 24 hours after perhaps their most emotional win of the season, the Yankees notched one of their most emphatic wins of the season on Saturday afternoon.

Nathan Eovaldi wrote another chapter in his Hekyl-and-Jyde season as he went eight innings and allowed two runs on six hits against the nearly the same Red Sox lineup that had torched him for six runs and 10 hits less than a week ago.

Eovaldi dialed up the heat, averaging 97.8 mph on his four-seam fastball — matching his season-high — while hitting triple digits five times. The only other pitcher to throw more than three 100-plus mph pitches in a single game this season was Noah Syndergaard on April 18 against the Phillies. Eovaldi also got an impressive 10 swings-and-misses with his four-seamer, his most in any start as a Yankee.

Austin Romine had a career day with three hits, including two run-scoring doubles. The list of Yankee catchers to produce at least three hits, two doubles and two RBIs in a game against the Red Sox is a pretty good one: Romine, Jorge Posada (1999), Yogi Berra (1962), Bill Dickey (1936, 1943), Steve O’Neill (1925).

No sweep for you
Sunday night’s finale might not have been sweet, but at least it was short. The Yankees lost 5-1 and the game lasted 2 hours and 27 minutes, the shortest nine-inning game in this rivalry since May 19, 1999 (a 6-0 loss in 2:27 at Fenway) and the shortest at Yankee Stadium since May 2, 1995 (a 8-0 loss in 2:25).

The Yankees avoided the shutout thanks to Brett Gardner‘s ninth-inning home run, but it was just one of three hits against Red Sox starter Steven Wright, who baffled the Yankee lineup all night with his knuckleball. He became the first Boston pitcher to allow three hits or fewer in a complete-game win against the Yankees since Pedro Martinez’s epic 17-strikeout, one-hitter in the Bronx on Sept. 10, 1999.

How do you evaluate Luis Severino‘s outing, during which he tied a career-high with nine strikeouts (great!) but also allowed a career-high three homers (not-great!)? The good news is that he is the youngest Yankee (at the age of 22 years and 78 days) with that many strikeouts against the Red Sox in the last 100 seasons. The bad news is that he also became the first pitcher to give up three or more homers and have nine or more strikeouts in a Yankee-Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium.

David Ortiz continued to torment the Yankees, crushing two more homers — his 51st and 52nd career home runs versus the Yankees — and tying Carl Yastrzemski for the fifth-most all-time against the franchise. It was also his 30th and 31st hit in the Bronx, matching Mickey Vernon for the second-most by any visiting player at Yankee Stadium; Hall of Famer Goose Goslin (32) holds the record.

Yankees officially set 2016 Opening Day roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tomorrow afternoon — weather permitting — the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season against the same team and in the same place their 2015 season ended: at Yankee Stadium against the Astros. Opening Day is just another game in the grand scheme of things, but it absolutely has symbolic value, and besides, everyone wants to start the new year with a win.

Earlier today the Yankees officially announced their Opening Day roster. The deadline to file the roster with MLB was 12pm ET this afternoon. The Opening Day roster offers no surprises. There were no last minute trades or waiver claims. Nothing like that. The roster is exactly as expected following all the roster moves over the last week or two. Here is the club’s Opening Day roster:

CATCHERS (2)
C Brian McCann
C Austin Romine (No. 27)

INFIELDERS (6)
UTIL Dustin Ackley
2B Starlin Castro
SS Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
1B Mark Teixeira
IF Ronald Torreyes (No. 17)

OUTFIELDERS (4)
RF Carlos Beltran
LF Brett Gardner
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
OF Aaron Hicks (No. 31)

DESIGNATED HITTERS (1)
DH Alex Rodriguez

STARTERS (5)
RHP Nathan Eovaldi
RHP Michael Pineda
LHP CC Sabathia
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka

RELIEVERS (7)
RHP Johnny Barbato (No. 26)
RHP Dellin Betances
RHP Luis Cessa (No. 85)
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP Chasen Shreve
RHP Kirby Yates (No. 39)

MISCELLANY (4)
1B Greg Bird (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)
LHP Aroldis Chapman (restricted list, 30-game suspension)
RHP Bryan Mitchell (15-day DL retroactive to March 31st, broken toe)
OF Mason Williams (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)

Romine beat out Gary Sanchez and I guess Carlos Corporan for the backup catcher’s job. Torreyes beat out Pete Kozma and Rob Refsnyder for the backup infielder’s job, and Sabathia beat out Nova for the fifth starter’s spot. Barbato, Cessa, and Yates beat out a small army of relievers for spots on the Opening Day roster. They’re on the shuttle though; they could be send down for a fresh arm in short order.

Tanaka will start his second straight Opening Day tomorrow — Sabathia started six straight Opening Days prior to last year — and be followed in the rotation by Pineda, Eovaldi, Severino, and Sabathia in that order. Miller is going to pitch through the chip fracture in his right wrist, which is both admirable and awesome. After spending all winter talking about the team’s super-bullpen, the Yankees were dangerously close to starting the season with only one of their three elite relievers.

Chapman will return on May 9th, in the 31st game of the season. Bird is done for the season, Mitchell will miss a minimum of three months, and I’m not quite sure how long Williams will be sidelined. He’s been hitting and throwing at Tampa, so I assume his return is weeks away, not months. Chapman’s suspension means the Yankees have an open 40-man roster spot. Bird and Mitchell are 60-day DL candidates whenever more spots are needed.

Okay, that was entirely too many words about an Opening Day roster with zero surprises. Hooray for baseball being back. Go team.

Girardi confirms Tanaka to start Opening Day; Romine and Cessa make roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

During this afternoon’s game broadcast on YES, Joe Girardi confirmed Masahiro Tanaka will indeed start Opening Day this coming Monday. He’s been lined up to start Opening Day all spring, so this isn’t a surprise. The Yankees dragged out the announcement for whatever reason. It will be Tanaka’s second straight Opening Day start.

The rotation behind Tanaka will be Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and Luis Severino in that order, Girardi confirmed. The Yankees will pick between CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova for the fifth starter’s spot. Apparently that decision has not yet been made. Either that or the players have not been informed and the team is not ready to make the announcement.

Girardi also said both Luis Cessa and Austin Romine will make the Opening Day roster. The writing has been on the wall for Romine since Gary Sanchez was optioned to minor league camp last week. He’s had the inside track to be Brian McCann‘s backup for a while now. Romine has had a nice camp, and because he is out of options with a prior outright assignment, he could have elected free agent if he did not make the team.

Cessa, 23, came over from the Tigers this past offseason in the Justin Wilson trade. He allowed three runs on eight hits and two walks in ten innings this spring, and all three runs came in one of his five Grapefruit League outings. Cessa struck out ten. He’s a starter by trade and can give the team multiple innings. Interestingly, Girardi said Cessa made the team even before Bryan Mitchell went down with his broken toe.

In other roster news, Johnny Barbato told reporters in Tampa this morning he has been told he will make the team as well. The 23-year-old came over from the Padres in last year’s Shawn Kelley trade. He surrendered one run in 10.1 innings this spring, with 12 strikeouts and one one walk. Neither Barbato nor Cessa has pitched in the big leagues before, so the Yankees will have two true rookies in their Opening Day bullpen.

Earlier this week we learned Ronald Torreyes has indeed made the team as the backup infielder, beating out Pete Kozma. Here’s the roster at the moment:

CATCHERS (2) INFIELDERS (6) OUTFIELDERS (4) STARTERS (5) RELIEVERS (7) MISC. (4)
McCann Ackley Beltran Tanaka Barbato Chapman (sus.)
Romine Castro Ellsbury Pineda Betances Bird (DL)
Gregorius Gardner Eovaldi Cessa Mitchell (DL)
DH (1) Headley Hicks Severino Shreve Williams (DL)
Rodriguez Teixeira CC or Nova CC or Nova
Torreyes Miller?
???

Andrew Miller is a question right now because he suffered a chip fracture yesterday when he took a line drive to the wrist. He intends to pitch through his wrist fracture, though we’ll see what happens later today, after he visits a specialist. It might not be a playable injury. Hopefully it is.

Mitchell’s injury created an open bullpen spot, which is that last ??? in the table under relievers. Kirby Yates and Anthony Swarzak are the only bullpeners still in big league camp and not on the Opening Day roster. Yates has out-pitched Swarzak this spring, so we’ll see if that’s enough to land him on the team. The Yankees could always bring someone back from minor league camp as well.

Spring Competitions: The Backup Catcher & Final Bench Spot [2016 Season Preview]

Romine. (Presswire)
Romine. (Presswire)

Coming into the spring, half of the bench was set. We knew Dustin Ackley and Aaron Hicks would occupy two of the four spots and nothing’s changed. The last two spots were up for grabs. One will go to the backup catcher, and because the plan to play Starlin Castro at third base didn’t work out, the other has to go to a backup third baseman. The Yankees don’t have much of a choice with those last two spots, positionally. Let’s preview those last two bench players, whoever they may be.

The Backup Catcher (For Now)

The Yankees have had some pretty good backup catchers in recent years. At the very least, they were strong defenders. The Yankees place a lot of emphasis on catcher defense. Some of those backups even hit too, like Frankie Cervelli a few years back and John Ryan Murphy last year. Murphy was traded for Hicks over the winter, leaving the backup spot to a spring competition.

The two main competitors: actual prospect Gary Sanchez and former prospect Austin Romine. The Yankees brought in veteran journeyman Carlos Corporan for depth, but Joe Girardi quickly ruled him out of the race, surprisingly. Others like Eddy Rodriguez and Sebastian Valle didn’t get much of a look in camp at all. It was either Sanchez or Romine. Anyone else would be a surprise.

It’s not yet official, but all signs point to Romine getting that backup catcher job to start the regular season. The Yankees optioned Sanchez to Triple-A last night, which effectively takes him out of the running. If he was still being considered for the job, the Yankees would keep Sanchez in big league camp so he could continue working with the big league pitchers. Instead, they sent him to minor league camp for at-bats and regular reps.

Sanchez and Romine are very different players. Sanchez hit 25 home runs in 500 total plate appearances a year ago. Romine hit 25 home runs from 2011-15. Sanchez is an outstanding thrower and an adequate receiver. Romine is an adequate thrower and a very good receiver. They’re pretty close to polar opposites, really. Sanchez was miserable during Grapefruit League play (1-for-21!) though, and Girardi said he felt he was pressing in an effort to make the team.

Sending Sanchez to Triple-A for a few weeks is totally justifiable given his still rough around the edges defense. The service time aspect can’t be ignored either. Thirty-five days in the minors delays Sanchez’s free agency a year. That’s potentially huge. If he turns into the type of player his tools suggest he can become, gaining control of his age 29 season in 2022 would be enormous. It’s a no-brainer, really. How do you not send him down to delay free agency?

The Yankees have gone young at almost every opportunity over the last 18 months, and replacing Murphy with Sanchez seems like the logical move. Remember, Romine was pretty close to out of the organization last year. The team designated him for assignment at the end of Spring Training, he slipped through waivers, and they stashed him in Triple-A. He was added to the 40-man roster and called back up in September only because Sanchez was dealing with a hamstring issue and the Yankees wanted a third catcher when rosters expanded.

So, for now, Romine is in line to be the backup catcher. The key words there are “for now.” There is zero doubt Sanchez is in the club’s long-term catching picture. Ideally, he would spend some time as Brian McCann‘s understudy before taking over the starting job. That apprenticeship is still likely to begin this year, I think. Once his free agency is delayed and once the Yankees are comfortable with his defense, Sanchez will be in the show. Romine is a placeholder more than anything.

Ref Robsnyder. (Presswire)
Ref Robsnyder. (Presswire)

Open Tryouts At Third Base

Eight different players have played third base for the Yankees during Grapefruit League play this spring. Eight! It would have been nine had the team not pulled the plug on the Castro experiment. One of the eight is the starter (Chase Headley) and another is a prospect (Miguel Andujar) who was up from minor league camp for a day to help out during a set of split squad games. The other six: Jonathan Diaz, Pete Kozma, Rob Refsnyder, Deibinson Romero, Donovan Solano, and Ronald Torreyes.

Diaz, Romero, and Solano have all already been assigned to minor league camp, taking them out of the running for the final bench spot. The remaining three candidates hit the bench guy stereotype trifecta:

  • Kozma: Veteran utility man who’s played for some pretty good teams in the past.
  • Refsnyder: Prospect with no clear path to playing time, so he’s trying to improve his versatility.
  • Torreyes: Third tier prospect with just enough tools to potentially force the issue.

Kozma is a known quantity at this point. He’s not going to hit, but he can play some pretty good defense at the three non-first base infield positions. Refsnyder has handled himself quite well at third base this spring despite being thrown into the fire. Give him some props. Learning a new position and trying to make the team at the same time isn’t easy. Torreyes? Well, I learned his name is pronounced “to-reyes” and not “torre-eyes” like I had been saying in my head. That about sums up his spring.

I get the feeling Refsnyder has the inside track for the final bench spot right now, though cases could be made for Kozma and Torreyes. Remember, this is a part-time gig. The Yankees could want Refsnyder playing everyday in Triple-A — and working on his third base defense — rather than sitting on the bench and playing maybe twice a week in the big leagues. Two months (55 days to be exact) in the minors delays his free agency a year. Like Sanchez, is it worth keeping Refsnyder up to play only a handful of times in those two months when he could instead play everyday in Triple-A and push his free agency back? That’s a question worth asking.

Kozma could be buried on the bench for weeks at a time a la Brendan Ryan and no one would care. Torreyes does not have Refsnyder’s offensive upside but he’s a contact machine with some speed and solid defensive chops. He truly may be a better bench option than Refsnyder because he does more things well. Refsnyder’s all bat. Torreyes is more well-rounded and his development isn’t a huge priority. If he sits on the bench and plays once every ten days, so be it.

The Yankees say they want to rest their regulars more often this season, but Girardi also acknowledged Didi Gregorius and Castro don’t need as much rest as everyone else because they’re so young. Whoever gets this last bench spot will be responsible for backing up Headley, first and foremost. Didi and Starlin don’t need as many days on the bench. I think Refsnyder will get the job. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees go with the “safer” bet in Kozma or the more well-rounded option in Torreyes.