The Two Bench Mainstays [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Because baseball is so competitive these days, a strong bench is imperative for success. You can’t win with just eight or nine quality position players. Teams need good bench players capable of filling in without much of a drop off in production. That depth is often the difference between good teams and great teams. We see it every season.

As usual, the Yankees cycled through several different bench players this season due to injuries and ineffectiveness and whatnot. Two players remained on the bench all year though: Austin Romine and Ronald Torreyes. Neither was a lock to make the team out of Spring Training, and yet, they stayed on the big league roster all season. You really can’t predict baseball, huh?

The Backup Catcher

A year ago Romine was barely on the big league radar. He was designated for assignment last Spring Training and slipped through waivers unclaimed, and when September 1st rolled around, he was among the first wave of call-ups only because Gary Sanchez‘s hamstring was barking. The year before Romine wasn’t called up until Francisco Cervelli got hurt in mid-September.

The Yankees kept Romine on the 40-man roster all offseason and brought him to Spring Training as backup catcher competition for Sanchez this year. They didn’t want to just hand the backup job to Sanchez. They wanted to make him work for it, and Romine (and I guess Carlos Corporan) was the alternative. Then a weird thing happened: Romine thoroughly outplayed Sanchez in Spring Training and won the backup job.

The combination of Romine outhitting Sanchez in camp (.289/.308/.474 vs. .091/.259/.136) and their roster statuses (Romine was out of options, Sanchez had one left) tipped the scales in Romine’s favor. It’s tough to think the Yankees made the wrong decision in hindsight too. Sanchez thrived in the second half after some more minor league seasoning and Romine turned in a decent year as the backup catcher.

As expected, Romine didn’t play a whole lot early in the season. The Yankees stuck with Brian McCann because he was the clear cut starter, and also because they were really struggling to score runs early on and wanted their best players in the lineup as often as possible. Romine started only five of the team’s first 22 games. His best month was May, when he went 12-for-37 (.324) with four doubles and a homer. That includes a 3-for-4 game with two doubles and two runs driven in against the Red Sox on May 7th.

Romine also went 3-for-4 and drove in two runs in a game against the Rays later in the month. His bat cooled down after that — Romine went 17-for-84 (.202) with three homers from June 1st through August 31st — before a nice little finish in late September. He had a pair of two-hit games within his final four starts. By then Sanchez had established himself as the starting catcher, so playing time was hard to come by.

All told, Romine hit .242/.269/.382 (68 wRC+) with three home runs in 176 total plate appearances this year, which stinks in general but is basically right on par with the league average backup catcher. He was surprisingly excellent with runners in scoring position, hitting .364/.354/.477 (111 wRC+) in those spots. I do love OBP > AVG batting lines. That’s what three sac flies and one walk will do for you.

Defensively, the numbers don’t match Romine’s reputation. He only threw out 16.7% of basestealers — to be fair, it’s a more respectable 22.2% if you remove Dellin Betances, who doesn’t hold runners — and both StatCorner (-3.8) and Baseball Prospectus (-1.9) say he cost the Yankees runs with his pitch-framing. FRAA, which is BP’s attempt at an all-encompassing catcher defense metric, rated Romine at -3.2 runs overall behind the plate.

It’s tough to gauge backup catcher defense with the eye test because they play so sparingly, though Romine does seem like a classic Nichols Law catcher. He doesn’t hit much, so his defensive reputation gets talked up. Romine will turn 28 later this month and he is what he is at this point. He’s a decent enough backup option. Someone you can stash behind a starter like McCann or Sanchez, who will play as much as possible. Not someone you want to platoon or use as part of a two-catcher timeshare.

Romine filled in capably early in the season as the Yankees gave Sanchez those extra reps in Triple-A. It’s hard to see how Austin fits into the team’s long-term plans. Heck, he might not even make it through the offseason. Sanchez isn’t going anywhere, I’d say the odds are against a McCann trade, plus Kyle Higashioka is being added to the 40-man roster. Romine had a decent enough season in 2016, yet his roster spot is not terribly secure.

The Backup Infielder

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The last 18 months have been pretty hectic for Torreyes. The poor guy has changed organizations five times since last May. Here is his transactions log.

  • May 15th, 2015: Traded by Astros to Blue Jays for cash.
  • June 12th, 2015: Traded by Blue Jays to Dodgers for cash.
  • January 12th, 2016: Traded with Tyler Olson by Dodgers to Yankees for Rob Segedin.
  • January 25th, 2016: Claimed off waivers by Angels.
  • February 1st, 2016: Claimed off waivers by Yankees.

Astros to Blue Jays to Dodgers to Yankees to Angels to Yankees. Five transactions and four different teams. And yet, Torreyes remained on the big league roster all season in 2016. Usually guys who bounce around that much in a short period of time don’t stick in the big leagues. Torreyes did.

Of course, Torreyes had to win a job in Spring Training first. He was up against Rob Refsnyder and Pete Kozma (and some others) for the backup infielder’s job, and Torreyes won it because he hit well enough in camp and offered the most defensive versatility. Simply put, Torreyes could out-hit Kozma and out-defend Refsnyder, so he made the team out of Spring Training.

Baseball America ranked Torreyes as the No. 26 prospect in the Dodgers’ farm system last offseason and we saw exactly what was in their scouting report this season:

Though he is 5-foot-7 with physical limitations, his bat control is terrific. He has a simple stroke, getting his body in position to create a swing that stays on plane through the hitting zone. That allows him to consistently find the barrel. He has a solid eye but doesn’t draw a ton of walks, while his well below-average power limits his impact. An average runner, he’s played at shortstop and third base, but his best fit is second, where he’s a solid defender with an average arm.

That perfectly describes Torreyes. That’s exactly him. Torreyes had an 11.9% strikeout rate and an 86.0% contact rate this season, both of which were far better than the league averages (21.1% and 78.1%). That contact ability allows him to go on ridiculous BABIP-fueled hot streaks. Torreyes went 8-for-17 (.471) with a double and a triple to start the season. He then went 14-for-26 (.538) with six doubles and a homer during an eight-game span in late-August.

With those insane hot streaks came long cold streaks as well. In fact, from May 1st through August 14th, an arbitrarily selected stretch of 95 team games, Torreyes hit .158/.238/.228 (25 wRC+) in 63 plate appearances. He didn’t hit and he didn’t play. I mean, 63 plate appearances in 95 games! And he was healthy and on the roster for all of them too. At one point Torreyes appeared in only six of 31 games.

Torreyes wasn’t playing for a few reasons, most of which weren’t hit fault. Chase Headley was very good after April, so it was tough to take him out of the lineup. Didi Gregorius was generally awesome all year, so it was tough to take him out of the lineup too. Starlin Castro had an insane hot streak to open the new season and that bought him a lot of rope. It was hard for Joe Girardi to take one of those guys out of the lineup with the Yankees needing wins.

Overall, Torreyes hit .258/.305/.374 (81 wRC+) this season, which is the most backup infielder batting line possible. I’m pretty sure every backup infielder is contractually obligated to hit .250-something/.300-something/.370-something. Ronnie also did the little things at the plate, like protect the runner on a steal attempt.

Ronald Torreyes swing

Torreyes didn’t strike out (11.9%), didn’t walk (6.0%), didn’t hit for power (.116 ISO), and didn’t steal bases (2-for-3). Only one of those things is a good thing. It’s tough to rack up big stolen base totals as a reserve player, though Torreyes did steal 12+ bases a bunch of times in the minors. It would be cool if he ran more next year.

It’s very easy to like Torreyes because he plays with a ton of energy and is short little guy. He and Gregorius had this thing where Didi would pick Torreyes up so he could high-five teammates after they hit home runs. It was pretty awesome.

Aaron Judge Ronald Torreyes

Torreyes is a classic underdog. He’s a little guy who doesn’t hit for power and has been in four different organizations in the last 18 months. You can’t help but root for him, especially when you see him go on one of his insane hot streaks. He’s a good bench player. That’s what he is. There’s not enough here to start — he’d have to start hitting for power or stealing a lot more bases, something like that — but Torreyes is a guy worth having on the bench.

I don’t think you can ever say a bench player is locked into a roster spot on next year’s team in November. Roles like this feature an awful lot of turnover. Torreyes is clearly the favorite to be the utility infielder again next season though. That’s not a stretch. Refsnyder and others might get a crack at the job in camp, as they should. Competition is a good thing. Torreyes did a fine job as the backup infielder this past season and there’s a chance he might stick around for a little while in that role.

MLBTR’s projected 2017 arbitration salaries and the Dellin Betances outlier

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

With the 2016 season now complete, we can begin to look forward to the offseason and the 2017 Yankees, and this winter a lot of attention will be paid to arbitration-eligible players. The Yankees have a lot of them. Nine, in fact. Some of them are pretty important parts of the team too.

Yesterday Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors published his annual arbitration salary projections for next season. Swartz’s model is pretty darn accurate and it gets more and more precise with each passing season. The numbers might not be exact, but they’re usually in the ballpark. Here’s what Swartz’s model projects for the Yankees’ nine arbitration-eligible players.

That’s $32.8M worth of arbitration salaries next year, which works out to a $14.6M raise over what those nine players earned this past season. As a reminder, players need three years of service time (3.000) to qualify for arbitration in most cases. Some, like Gregorius and Layne, are arbitration-eligible four times as a Super Two. The Super Two cutout this year is approximately 2.127, according to Steve Adams. That doesn’t really affect the Yankees. Anyway, here are some thoughts on the projected arbitration salaries.

1. The Betances projection seems light. The arbitration process is pretty archaic. Old school stats like ERA and saves — especially saves — matter most. Betances has been a setup man for the majority of his career, so he doesn’t have those big money making saves totals, which is going to hurt his arbitration case. We all know Dellin has been one of the two or three best relievers in baseball since Opening Day 2014 though.

Swartz’s model has trouble with elite players with unprecedented resumes. Tim Lincecum damn near broke the thing when he went into arbitration with two Cy Youngs a few years ago. Betances leads all relievers in innings and strikeouts over the last three seasons by a lot. He struck out 392 batters from 2014-16. Next most by a reliever? Andrew Miller with 326. Yeah. Look at the five highest strikeout totals by a reliever the last three years:

  1. 2014 Betances: 135
  2. 2015 Betances: 131
  3. 2016 Betances: 126
  4. 2016 Miller: 123
  5. 2015 Aroldis Chapman: 115

Yeah. Betances is also a three-time All-Star. Do you know how many other relievers have been to the All-Star Game each of the last three years? None. Not one. Dellin’s the only one. The All-Star Game selections plus the bulk inning and strikeout totals mean Betances is going into arbitration with far more earning potential than most setup men. He could break Swartz’s model, so to speak.

As best I can tell, the record salary for a first year arbitration-eligible reliever is $6.25M by Jonathan Papelbon back in the day. The lack of saves will probably prevent Betances from breaking Papelbon’s record, though I do think he’s going to wind up with a salary closer to Papelbon’s than the projected salary above. Dellin isn’t a normal reliever and projecting his arbitration salary with a one size fits all model probably won’t work.

2. Eovaldi and Ackley are goners. Swartz’s model projects no raise for Ackley. He made $3.2M this year and the model has him making $3.2M next year. That’s what happens when you barely play and barely hit before suffering a season-ending injury. Given the salary and the lack of production, Ackley is a prime non-tender candidate this offseason. The Yankees might release him after the World Series to clear 40-man roster space rather than wait until the December 2nd tender deadline.

As for Eovaldi, the model projects a $1.9M raise, though that’s pretty irrelevant. He recently underwent major elbow surgery, including his second Tommy John surgery, so he’s going to miss the entire 2017 season. There’s no sense in paying Eovaldi that much money to not pitch next season, especially when he’ll be a free agent next winter. The business side of baseball can be cruel. Eovaldi is hurt and soon he’s going to be unemployed too. The Yankees will non-tender him. Brian Cashman all but confirmed it.

A non-tender wouldn’t necessarily mean Eovaldi’s career in pinstripes is over. The Yankees could re-sign him to a smaller contract with an eye on 2018. They’ve done that before, sign injured pitchers to a two-year deal and rehab them in year one. Think Jon Lieber and Andrew Bailey and David Aardsma. The second Tommy John surgery is much riskier than the first, but with pitching so in demand, it’s probably worth exploring a two-year deal with Eovaldi. Just not at the projected salary.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

3. Extension time for Gregorius? Gregorius made $2.425M this past season and projects to make $5.1M next season, which is a $2.675M raise. His salary projects to more than double. Didi will be in his second of four arbitration years as a Super Two next year, so if we apply similar raises going forward, we get $7.775M in 2017 and $10.45M in 2018. That’s a real quick and dirty way of estimating his earning potential the next three years.

That rough estimate puts Gregorius at $23.325M from 2016-18 before he hits free agency. Is it worth it to explore a long-term extension this offseason? It is if you think his power breakout this past season was real, and there are reasons to believe it is. Gregorius is only 26, remember. He’s entering what should be the best years of his career. A four-year deal that guarantees him $35M or so seems worthwhile for the Yankees. We’re talking about a prime age player at a premium position.

At the same time, the Yankees have a ton of shortstops in the minors, namely Tyler Wade in Double-A plus both Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo in High-A. I wouldn’t worry about that though. Gregorius is a talented young player at a hard to fill position and those guys are worth locking up. If there’s a logjam at shortstop when Wade and Torres and Mateo and whoever are ready, great! That’s a good problem.

4. Big Mike‘s big salary. Being a starting pitcher is pretty good when arbitration time arrives. Even mediocre starters like Pineda get hefty raises. He made $4.3M this past season and projects for $7.8M next year, so we’re talking about a $3.5M raise. That’s despite a 6-12 record and a 4.82 ERA (90 ERA+) in 175.2 innings. That stuff matters in arbitration.

Pineda’s raise has more to do with his 207 strikeouts and AL leading 10.6 K/9. And really, $7.8M is still below market value for a pitcher of Pineda’s caliber. Guys like him will run you $10M to $12M or so in free agency. Probably more these days. It would be worth asking Pineda and his representatives what it would take to get an extension done this offseason, simply because the upcoming free agent pitching classes are so weak.

5. The remain projections are fair. The projections for Warren ($2.3M), Hicks ($1.4M), Layne ($1.2M), and Romine ($900,000) seem just about right. Not high enough to consider a non-tender and not low enough to see it as a bargain. That could change in a year, but right now, they’re fair. Weirdly enough, it wouldn’t surprise me if all four of those guys are on the 2017 Opening Day roster and it wouldn’t surprise me if all four are jettisoned in the offseason. I feel like we’re in for some surprises this winter.

How does McCann fit into the Yankees’ long-term picture?

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Over the last two weeks or so the Yankees have changed their direction dramatically. Yes, they’re still playing up the “we’re trying to contend” angle, but they traded quality veteran players at the deadline and have installed several young prospects into the everyday lineup. Those kids are playing too. They’re not sitting on the bench three or four days at a time like we’ve seen in the past.

The first of those young players to arrive was catcher Gary Sanchez, who has started ten of 12 games since being called up. Six of those ten starts have come behind the plate, which is great, except the Yankees already have a pretty good veteran backstop in Brian McCann. McCann’s not someone you just brush aside, not with another two years and $34M left on is contract after the season.

McCann has started exactly two games behind the plate since Sanchez was called up. That’s it. Sanchez has caught six and Austin Romine has caught four. McCann has started five other games at DH, so he’s been in the lineup seven times and out of the lineup five times since Sanchez arrived. That’s a pretty drastic shift in playing time, right? This isn’t an A-Rod caliber benching, but it’s definitely a reduction in playing time.

There are reasons for this. One, Sanchez is clearly the catcher of the future and the Yankees want to see what he can do behind the plate on a regular basis, which means McCann has to sit. Two, McCann’s been in a pretty miserable slump, going only 14-for-77 (.182) in the second half. And three, it helps reduce the wear-and-tear on McCann. He’s not young in catcher years. There’s a lot of innings on that body.

Sanchez’s arrival has led to less playing time for McCann in the short-term. What happens in the long-term? That’s a pretty big question. I see three possible outcomes, only two of which are realistic.

1. Release McCann. This just isn’t going to happen. I know the Yankees cut ties with Alex Rodriguez last week, but quality catchers are very hard to find, and McCann is still very good relative to his peers at the position. You don’t just eat $34M across two years and let some other team have McCann for free. Do that and he’d be a Red Sox or Ray or Tiger or Indian or Astro in about three seconds. This ain’t happening.

2. Keep McCann. Again, McCann is pretty productive for a catcher, and there’s never anything wrong with keeping a productive catcher. The second half slump has taken a bite out of his numbers, but a .232/.334/.406 (100 wRC+) batting line and 15 homers from a backstop is nothing to sneeze at. Years ago we watched Joe Girardi mentor Jorge Posada when Posada first broke into the big leagues and learned how to be an everyday catcher. McCann can be that mentor to Sanchez next year. Could you think of a better veteran to watch over the kid? I can’t.

3. Trade McCann. A year ago at this time I probably would’ve laughed at the idea. But now we know the Yankees had trade talks with the Braves about McCann, and that the team is open to continuing trade talks — with any team, not just Atlanta — after slipping McCann through trade waivers earlier this month. After trading away Carlos Beltran, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman, why wouldn’t the Yankees listen to offers for McCann? They’d be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t. (The big obstacle here is McCann’s no-trade clause.)

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

The McCann situation is similar to the Miller situation. The Yankees don’t have to trade him. He’s signed for another two years and if a team makes them a nice offer, great. But if not, they’re not going to just give him away for the sake of making a move. McCann’s a quality player who can be valuable to any franchise, even one going through a transition — “transition” is the Yankees’ word for rebuild — like the Yankees.

At the same time, the McCann situation is not similar to the Miller situation. For starters, Miller was a truly elite player at his position whereas McCann is merely really good. Also, there are seven (and sometimes eight) bullpen spots. There’s always room for a guy like Miller, on any team. Most teams only carry two catchers though, maybe three, so roster space is at more of a premium.

The Yankees are blessed with three big league quality catchers at the moment. McCann’s a proven veteran, Sanchez did everything he needed to do in Triple-A, and Romine has shown himself to be a passable backup. They could carry all three on the roster next season. Heck, they’re carrying all three right now. It was a little tough when A-Rod was still on the roster, but as long as that DH spot is not married to one player, three catchers is doable.

Doable doesn’t make it the best way to go, however. Especially since these guys aren’t versatile. It’s catcher and first base only. Romine doesn’t have much trade value — guys like Bobby Wilson and Bryan Holaday seem to be on waivers every other week — and Sanchez is presumably off-limits. McCann’s not stupid. He knows Sanchez is here to take over behind the plate long-term. Does that make him more willing to waive his no-trade clause? I guess that depends on the teams that want him.

Over the last few weeks the Yankees have moved on from several expensive veterans, either by trading them or releasing them. Mark Teixeira‘s going to be gone after the season and I’d bet good money on either Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury being trading over the winter. (So Gardner, basically.) The Yankees are going young and McCann’s one of those veterans the team will be able to replace internally rather easy.

There is no reason to rush into a decision with McCann. If the Yankees get a good trade offer in the coming weeks, great. If not, they can take McCann into the offseason and explore the trade market then. And if that doesn’t turn up anything good, they can carry him into next season. The fact Sanchez is here and getting the bulk of the playing time does mean that, for the first time since he arrived three years ago, McCann’s role with the Yankees going forward is not entirely certain.

Life After A-Rod

(Drew Hallowell/Getty)
(Drew Hallowell/Getty)

Way back when Mariano Rivera left the Yankees, I was writing for another site and had previously written about life after Mo. However discomforting it may have been to be without the world’s greatest security blanket (aside from my actual security blanket from childhood, of course), I felt a sense of optimism going forward. The Yankees had survived a year without him with Rafael Soriano closing and had David Robertson waiting to take over for Mr. Untuck. As it turns out, things have been A-OK in the closer department for the Yankees since Rivera left. Ironically, that stability has come in the form of many different pitchers, which serves to highlight Mariano’s consistency. Now, we’re left with a similar vacancy with Alex Rodriguez‘s release/retirement hybrid. Though I’ve hardly begun to process what it means to me as a fan that A-Rod will no longer be on my favorite team, it’s time already to look forward to 2017 and beyond without him. Nothing made that clearer than Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge arriving with authority yesterday, each collecting two hits and a home run in their Bronx and big league debuts.

Regardless of our attachments to A-Rod, at the end of the day, he was a roster spot and a position to the Yankees–the designated hitter. For the rest of the year, it looks like that spot will be filled by some combination of Brian McCann and Gary Sanchez, presumably with Mark Teixeira taking a few games in when he needs a blow at first base, provided, of course, by Tyler Austin. The use of McCann and Sanchez in some sort of catcher/DH rotation makes sense: both have good bats and it’s worthwhile to pace Sanchez’s arrival, rather than just throwing him into things right away. How this bodes for next year, especially given Austin Romine‘s general competence as a backup this year, is another interesting angle.

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

Mike touched on the idea of three catchers in a mailbag about two weeks ago, and with Rodriguez leaving, the idea of three catchers in 2017 makes a lot more sense now. And given that Austin Romine has seen time at first base this year, it gives the Yankees some flexibility that a three catcher roster would normally prohibit. How could the Yankees manage their three catchers, as wall as the (expected to be) returning Greg Bird at first base? Let’s take a look.

On the average week in MLB, a team will likely have one of Monday or Thursday off. For argument’s sake, let’s say it’s a week when the Yankees have a Monday off and have night games, with the exceptions of Saturday and Sunday. They could go with a simple every-other-day rotation, alternating McCann and Sanchez at C/DH from Tuesday-Saturday with Romine going on Sunday, allowing Joe Girardi to play to the matchups for the DH spot. Tough lefty? Go with Sanchez. Tough righty? Go with McCann.  Alternatively, they could catch in chunks: McCann on Tuesday and Wednesday, Sanchez Thursday and Friday, Romine on Saturday, and one of McCann or Sanchez on Sunday. If Bird needs a day off or a half day off, Romine could slip over to first with Bird sitting or DHing, putting one of McCann or Sanchez on the bench.

Brian McCann

Assuming Brian McCann is on the team next year, he is going to be the centerpiece of the offense with Rodriguez, Tex, and Carlos Beltran gone. Gary Sanchez is going to be a big part of bolstering and supporting the lineup and getting each player rest will be crucial to continued offensive success. Additionally, while the defensive outlook for Sanchez is better than it initially was, it’s doubtful he’ll be as skilled as McCann in the immediate future–despite his proficiency at throwing out runners–and breaking him in gradually may help that development.

Alex Rodriguez was a complex person and player whom I’ll miss dearly. It was a joy to watch him play for my favorite team over the last twelve years. However, despite that feeling, the Yankees are well-positioned to creatively replace him and his production at DH.

Guest Post: Austin Romine’s transition from top prospect to trusty backup

The following is a guest post from Steven Simineri, whose work can be found at Double G Sports, among other places. He’s previously written guest posts on Chris Capuano, Ike Davis, and the bullpen.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Andrew Romine is a 30-year old light-hitting middle infielder for the Detroit Tigers. The switch-hitting Romine is hitting a paltry .230 in 74 at-bats this season and has only hit five homers since making his debut in 2010 for the Angels. However, to his younger brother Austin, Andrew is more than just a middling backup infielder.

“He was my hero for a while, forever, still is,” said the younger Romine, who has resurrected his career this season with the Yankees. “I owe him a lot, especially the last couple of off-seasons, getting my career back on the map. He’s really just been the guy for me to just listen to him and he’s got my work ethic back going hard and he’s one of the big reasons why I’m having success in the game right now.”

The Romine brothers are both trying to stick in the family business – their father, Kevin, played in the majors from 1985-91, a reserve outfielder for the Red Sox who hit .251 in 331 big league games. Just fourteen families have sent a father and two sons to the major leagues, including noteworthy baseball families such as the Stottlemyres, Boones and the Alomars.

The Yankees took Austin in the second round of the 2007 draft, 94th overall and 84 places before his big brother was picked by Anaheim in the fifth round. He was handed a million dollar signing bonus out of high school and back in the winter of 2010, Baseball America ranked Austin as the Yankees’ sixth-best prospect. But he could never find the major league consistency to stick and blew chances in Spring Training to seize the backup catcher role. He has also battled various injuries, notably two bulging disks in his back in 2012 and a concussion suffered in September of 2013.

Romine had just 13 plate appearances in 2014 for New York and was cut two days before Opening Day last year, losing his spot to then-Yankee John Ryan Murphy. He was designated for assignment and slipped through waivers unclaimed. His days in pinstripes looked to be numbered. But he spent the next five months at Triple-A Scranton and made the most of his time there, when he really seemed to have no future in the organization.

“Well when they pull you in the office and they tell you that you’re not hitting and you need to hit, you need to show that you can handle hitting at the big league level, it kinds of puts something on your shoulder, not necessarily in a negative way, in a positive way — I wanted to show them that I can hit, I wanted to show them that I can do it, that I’m still a catcher that people want,” said Romine. “So I mean I went down there with the right mindset, I had gone down there before, years before angry, upset with myself and really taking it in a bad direction. But last year I went down and I wanted to prove that I can hit, not only to the Yankees but to everybody else in baseball so I went down there with a positive mindset and I know what I wanted to do and I put in a lot of work and it came out good.”

Romine was a key part in the RailRiders’ run to the International League North Division championship. He hit .260 with seven home runs, 49 RBIs in 92 games and was named to the midseason All-Star team. Romine received a promotion to the big club when rosters expanded in September but he played in just one game with the Yankees. Out of options, Romine came to Spring Training as a backup catcher candidate along with top prospect Gary Sanchez and veteran Carlos Corporan.

“I mean to tell you the truth, I figured it was going to be my last look,” Romine admits. “I kind of been passed over and put down on the list a little bit but every time you get in the lineup there’s a chance to show something, there’s a chance to prove something and that’s how I took it. I was relaxed and been there, like you said it’s my tenth time going around so I’ve been in this situation before, knew what to expect, just really relaxed and let what I can do take over.”

No one seemed to think Romine would actually win the job after Sanchez’s monster 2015 season and standout performance in the Arizona Fall League, but he said that he had finally slowed the game down and felt more comfortable than he’s ever been. Sanchez struggled, Corporan hit just .167 and Romine hit a respectable .289 in 38 at-bats. He won the job.

“I had an opportunity to win a job again even in a rough spot,” said Romine, who is now in his tenth season in the Yankee organization. “I had Gary, I had Corporan, I had a lot of catchers that might have been in front of me in camp and I just went in with the mindset that there’s always a chance and I had to hit to be noticed and that’s what I’m trying to do, I’m trying to hit.”

Romine is trying to hit and he’s done just that. The 27-year-old is slashing .259/.276/.422 in limited time as Brian McCann’s backup. He has hit three homers and he’s batting .455 (10-22) with three doubles, 2 homers and 12 RBIs with runners in scoring position, the third highest average in the majors. In 169 major-league at-bats before this season, he had a .201/.244/.278 slash line with one home run and 11 RBIs.

Long considered the best defensive catcher in the Yankees’ system, Romine has also seemed to work well with the pitching staff, so much so that he may find himself becoming a personal catcher for Masahiro Tanaka, who is 5-0 with a 1.79 ERA in seven starts with Romine behind the plate.

Last Monday, Romine hit his first career go-ahead RBI in 8th inning or later off of Dallas Keuchel and he has performed better than anyone could have reasonably hoped. Backup catchers have remarkable staying power in the major leagues and Romine is making good on what was his last best chance to make it as a Yankee.

“There’s not very many chances in this game so to be passed over the year before for the job and to be able to get another chance to win it back and come back to New York is huge,” Romine said. “And I told myself I was going to take advantage of every opportunity that I got and that’s all I’m really trying to do.”

Yankeemetrics: Raise or lower the white flag? [July 25-27]

Be Like Mike. (Photo: Getty)
Be Like Mike. (Photo: Getty)

No Chapman, no problem
Despite making their first significant “sell” trade-deadline move in more than two and a half decades, the Yankees continued to remain on the fringes of the playoff race with a 2-1 win over the Astros on Monday.

With the win, the Yankees moved to three games above .500 for the first time this season. This is the deepest into the season they’ve gone without reaching that mark since 1991, when they never got more than a game above .500 the entire season. They finished that forgettable campaign with a 71-91 record, their fifth-worth winning percentage in franchise history.

A victory did not look promising less than a minute after Michael Pineda took the mound in the bottom of the first inning; George Springer deposited the first pitch into the right-field seats for a quick 1-0 Astros lead.

It was the first time a Yankee allowed a first-pitch homer to the first batter of the game since the Jose Reyes took Hiroki Kuroda deep in Toronto on June 25, 2014, and just the 11th occurrence since pitch data became available in 1988. Of the 10 other instances, the only other Yankee pitcher who allowed no other runs besides that leadoff homer — like Pineda — was Jack McDowell on July 13, 1995 versus the Twins.

Austin Romine played the unlikely role of hero with a tie-breaking RBI double in the eighth inning. That was the first career go-ahead hit in the eighth inning or later for the backup catcher, who is hitting a robust .375 (12-for-32) with runners in scoring position this season, the best mark on the team through Monday.

Milestone alerts! Carlos Beltran’s double leading off the seventh inning was the 524th of his career, passing one Hall-of-Famer (Willie Mays) and moving into a tie for 44th place with another Hall-of-Famer (Ken Griffey Jr.). Up next is Ted Williams with 525 doubles.

Chase Headley’s game-tying single in the fifth inning was his 1,147th career hit, breaking the major-league record for most hits by a Colorado-born player. He surpassed Roy Hartzell, a Golden, CO native who played 11 seasons with the St. Louis Browns (1906-10) and the Yankees (1911-16). According to a 1914 New York Times article, Hartzell was the “handiest utility man the Yankees ever had…he has played every position on the club except battery positions.”

That was easy. (Photo: AP)
That was easy. (Photo: AP)

All aboard the win train
The Yankees sure are making it tough for Prince Hal to push the SELL! button. For a team that’s defined inconsistency, they’ve somehow caught an incredible wave of positive momentum at the most critical juncture of the season, beating the Astros again on Tuesday night. It was another comeback win fueled by dominant starting pitching, some timely hitting and a shutdown back-of-the-bullpen performance.

CC Sabathia posted his best start in more than a month, giving up two runs on four hits while pitching into the seventh inning. He snapped a six-game winless streak during which he allowed at least four runs in each outing. That matched the longest such streak of his career, which he also did in 2002.

Although Sabathia had posted an ugly 7.46 ERA in his previous six turns, it wasn’t like he was getting crushed every night. He still entered Tuesday’s game with the lowest average exit velocity allowed (85.8 mph) among pitchers with at least 200 batted balls in play, and then nearly matched that number against the Astros (86.8).

Dellin Betances pulled off another crazy Houdini act, getting out of a two-out bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning to help seal the win. Hitters are just 2-for-27 (.074) with ducks on the pond against Betances in his career, the second-lowest batting average allowed in that situation among active pitchers (min. 25 at-bats), behind only Pirates lefty Tony Watson (.069).

Aces down
The Yankees desperate playoff push hit a speed bump on Wednesday night as the Yankees squandered a golden opportunity to move within three games of the second Wild Card spot after losing to the Astros, 4-1.

Still, even with the disappointing defeat, the Yankees are 11-5 (.688) all-time at Minute Maid Park, their third-highest winning percentage at any ballpark, behind only Atlanta’s Turner Field (.857, 12-2) and Minnesota’s Target Field (.760, 19-6).

Rotation ace Masahiro Tanaka — who entered the game with a league-leading 1.50 ERA in nine road starts — allowed four runs in five innings and lost for just the third time in 21 starts this season.

The loss also snapped a streak of seven straight Yankee wins in games started by Tanaka, the team’s longest such streak since winning 12 games in a row with Ivan Nova (!) on the mound in 2011. Tanaka has now been tagged for 10 runs and 14 hits in 10 career innings at Minute Maid Park.

Prior to Tanaka’s sub-par performance, Yankee pitchers had allowed just 17 runs in their previous 10 games, their best 10-game stretch of run prevention since July 1998.

Brian McCann drove in the lone Yankee run in the fourth inning with his 15th home run. This is the 11th time in his career he’s hit than many homers in a season, a feat matched by only seven other catchers in MLB history: Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, Lance Parrish, Yogi Berra, Jorge Posada and Gary Carter.

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.