With Austin Romine heading to Detroit, the New York Yankees appear comfortable with Kyle Higashioka as the backup catcher in 2020.
It seems longtime New York Yankees minor league Kyle Higashioka is finally going to be a full-time major leaguer. The Yankees lost backup catcher Austin Romine to a one-year deal with the Detroit Tigers worth $4.1 million.
Austin Romine agrees to 1-year, $4.1M with Tigers. His brother Andrew played there 2014-17.
— Sweeny Murti (@YankeesWFAN) December 12, 2019
This leaves the Yankees with an opening behind Gary Sanchez. Instead of looking to fill that role in the free-agent waters, the Yankees announced that they’re comfortable with Higashioka.
NYY Assistant GM Mike Fishman says club is comfortable with Kyle Higashioka as backup catcher:
"He's spent his time in Triple-A…and he's shown enough offensively & defensively that we do feel he's ready to have a more permanent big-league role.'' https://t.co/32Ao5ivBvP
— Pete Caldera (@pcaldera) December 12, 2019
The biggest complication in the backup catching situation is that Higashioka is out of minor league options. While a name like Martin Maldonado may make more sense, the Yankees’ hands are tied. Maldonado is a popular name floating around because of his familiarity with newly acquired Gerrit Cole. He’s certainly capable of being the backup catcher.
However, if the team did sign another backup catcher, they wouldn’t be able to call Higashioka up to fill in for injuries. Sanchez is a likely candidate to have at least one injured list stint in 2020. If Higashioka has no place on the 25-man roster, he’d have to be designated for assignment when Sanchez returns.
Essentially, it comes down to whether the Yankees are comfortable enough with Higashioka as the season-long backup catcher or if they’re willing to DFA him if needed. Higashioka is experienced enough to fill in behind the plate once or twice a week. Should Sanchez go down with a long-term injury, the team always has the option to acquire another catcher.
At the end of the day, Gary Sanchez is the everyday catcher. The decision on the backup catcher position isn’t “who’s the best player.” In reality, the question is whether or not the Yankees feel like Higashioka is ready for the same role Romine has filled the last few seasons.