When the Yankees inked Brian McCann to a long-term deal, it effectively blocked the ascent of any of the Yankees young catchers to a starting job. Then when they opted to bring Francisco Cervelli back, it created a surplus of catchers at both the major and minor league level. So the logical expectation was a trade would happen, but Cervelli's injury put that on the back-burner for a while. Now that Cervelli has returned and teams are inquiring about John Ryan Murphy's availability, the Hot Stove has had its burners turned back on and a trade looks like it will be coming in time. The thing is that it's hard to tell which catcher the Yankees will end up parting ways with.
Let's get this out of the way first: the team will not be trading McCann. Now that that matter has been settled, the Yankees have four catchers with differing degrees of value to both the Yankees and prospective trade partners, but would, in the very least, be considered potentially useful.
Francisco Cervelli (28)
Positives: Decent amount of MLB experience, respectable batter for a catcher
Negatives: Injury history, suspended for PEDs
Cervelli might actually be the most attractive option for a team with immediate catching needs at the ML level while netting the Yankees the least in return. He's shown to be a capable backstop while not getting overmatched at the plate (career 92 wRC+), and if his 2013 start wasn't a total fluke he might be an even better hitter than would be assumed. Unfortunately, he's had a hard time staying on the field and isn't a prospect at 28, so not much would be coming back to the Yankees. The team's apparent fondness for him combined with his lack of trade value makes him a good bet to be the least likely to be moved.
Austin Romine (25)
Positives: Was once a Top 100 prospect, still relatively young
Negatives: Hitting skill has not developed
Romine's days as a prospect are also pretty much behind him, so what's left is a player with the likely ceiling of a career backup. He's also sporting an 84 wRC+ this year at Triple-A and not doing much to disprove the impressions as a "non-hitter" he gave in his time in the big leagues. Thankfully for him, being a good hitter isn't always a prerequisite for a long career as a major league catcher, and he could be attractive to a team lacking in depth behind the plate.
John Ryan Murphy (23)
Positives: Has shown promise in short MLB stint, Yankees rave about his receiving skills
Negatives: Never a "blue chip" prospect, hitting was solid but unspectacular in minors
The reason why many of us were disappointed Murphy got sent back down is because he looks like he's ready to stick in the majors right now. That assessment combined with his youth means he could be looked at as an upgrade for both contenders with immediate catching needs or a team in a rebuilding mode. His potential is considered to be limited, but he could very well have a long career as a starting catcher.
Gary Sanchez (21)
Positives: One of the premier catching prospects in baseball, has excellent power for a catcher
Negatives: Catching skills still in question, just got benched for "attitude problems"
This would be the very definition of "selling low", so I don't anticipate the Yankees parting ways with their best prospect just yet. As Andrew noted on Wednesday, even on the field it has not been a great year for Sanchez who was always going to need his bat to stand out if he was to fulfill his promise. There's still plenty of time for him to turn things around, so patience is probably the Yankees' best strategy here. But there would be plenty of interest if the Yankees considered parting ways.
It would be much to the chagrin of many here at PSA, but if I were a betting man I would wager that Murphy is the one that gets moved. I think it would be a reasonable expectation that Cervelli can be just as helpful to the team in a backup role which is probably their top concern at the moment. And there isn't the opportunity for Murphy to develop into a starter within the next two to three years like there could be with another team. If a team comes calling with a deal the Yankees like, I don't think they'll hesitate to pull the trigger. We'll just have to see if it's for a veteran, or a fellow blocked prospect like most of us were hoping for when news of the McCann deal first came down.