2016 Statistics: .242/.269/.382, 68 wRC+, -0.1 fWAR
2017 Roster Status: Arbitration eligible
When the Yankees shipped John Ryan Murphy to the Twins prior to the 2016 season, many fans did not approve. Murphy had been a likable backup who played hard and caught a solid game behind the plate. Of course now we know how badly he fell off this season, spending most of his days in the Twins’ minor league system.
Austin Romine helped ease the frustration of Murphy’s departure for most of the 2016 season (much more than Aaron Hicks did anyway). Romine brought a very similar DNA to that of Murphy, and provided productive innings as a backup to Brian McCann, who needed time at DH to rest his aging body.
Romine started the season nicely, batting .324 during the month of May. Much of his success at the plate took a backseat to the fact that the Yankees as a whole were playing terrible baseball during Romine’s hot streak in the early months of the season, so a lot of Romine’s contributions went relatively unnoticed.
One of Romine’s greatest strengths was his efficiency against lefties. Joe Girardi was able to plug in Romine in place of McCann whenever the Yankees were facing a tough lefty, considering McCann batted just .218 against lefties this season. Romine batted .274 against lefties for the 2016 season, and was particularly tough against Red Sox ace David Price. Romine hit .429 against the Sox southpaw with five RBI in 14 at-bats, and .467 against Boston as a whole with an OBP of .500. Any success like that against the Sox is grounds for an instant grade boost.
Of course, the emergence of Gary Sanchez put a damper on Romine’s playing time. It is hard to compete with a new arrival who is breaking major league records with their unbelievable home run frequencies. Romine’s hitting cooled down once Sanchez arrived, likely due to the decreased number of at-bats which could interrupt any hitter’s rhythm at the plate.
Romine ended the season with a .242/.269/.382 slash over 165 at bats, which is not bad at all for a backup catcher turned third-string catcher. As for his defense, Romine was also solid behind the plate. He appeared in 50 games as a catcher, and posted a .997 fielding percentage, slightly above the league average. He also played six games at first base when Girardi needed a fill-in, and didn’t commit an error.
It is hard to say what the future holds for Romine as a Yankee. He is only expected to make $900,000 next season, and it is not unlikely that Girardi will carry three catchers when 2017 gets underway. Still, we saw how quickly a serviceable backup like Murphy could depart, as many backups do. For now Romine’s future as a Yankee is a bit unclear, at least much more unclear than before Sanchez stormed onto the scene this summer. If 2016 was his last season in the Bronx, it was an overall successful season given his role on the team.