Signing Gerrit Cole was an immense boost for the Yankees, but Brian Cashman still needs to fill one more hole in his roster before Spring Training begins.
Spending a small fortune to sign Gerrit Cole was the biggest move the Yankees will make this offseason, but it doesn’t mean work is done for Brian Cashman and his front office. The task for the higher-ups in the Bronx has now shifted towards improving the edges of the roster.
One really important bit of business for the Yankees still remains. Austin Romine’s decision to leave the team for an opportunity to earn a starting spot in Detroit leaves the organization thin at the catcher position.
Gary Sanchez has the potential to be one of the best backstops in the game. He will undoubtedly begin the 2020 regular season as the team’s starter. He may never become an elite defender, but his ability to hit for massive power makes him a terrific value at his position. The challenge the Yankees face currently is acquiring a suitable backup for the talented 27-year-old.
Publicly, Cashman and the front office are expressing confidence that Kyle Higashioka can handle the job. He’s not an unfamiliar name or face for Yankees fans. He played 18 games for the big league club last season and showed some pop with the bat. Unfortunately, at 29 years of age it’s highly unlikely he’s going to improve massively with more playing time. He’s a decent power hitter who will never hit for a suitable average. More importantly, he’s a below-average defender at the position who will not do anything to boost the team’s high-priced pitching staff.
If Sanchez could be counted on to play 140 games or so then the Yankees could get by with Higashioka as his backup. Unfortunately, Sanchez is an injury prone player who only managed to take the field 106 times last season. The Yankees have to understand that their backup catcher will need to play at least 50 games this season. The position is much more likely to turn into a platoon than for Sanchez to suddenly become the picture of health.
The real challenge for Cashman is that the free agent market at the position is already alarmingly thin. Former Astros’ star Robinson Chirinos is the best player left on the market in terms of last year’s WAR, but he’s already 36 years of age. That means New York is much more likely to scrape the bottom of the barrel for players like Kevan Smith and John Ryan Murphy if they want to find competition for Higashioka via free agency.
The more likely solution would be for the Yankees to make a minor trade to acquire a superior backup. It’s just the sort of move that Cashman loves to make under the dark of night. Don’t be at all surprised to see New York make a transaction to address their need at catcher that flies completely under the radar.
No matter what, Cashman cannot afford to head to Spring Training without adding to his quality and/or options at backup catcher. If he doesn’t, a serious injury to Sanchez could torpedo the team’s hopes for ending their World Series drought.