If it’s strange and nerve-wracking without Gary Sanchez as a staple in the Yankees’ lineup, then imagine if you’re Austin Romine. Romine was a lock for the roster this spring, and his consistent defense, history with the pitching staff, and lack of minor league options made him an obvious fit as the backup for Sanchez. Now he finds himself an everyday catcher, at least for a little while, and it’s a big deal for him.
A theory that’s been oft referenced in quirky sabermetrics circles is Rany Jazayerli's Law of Backup Catchers, that a backup catcher will eventually hit .300 in fewer than 200 at-bats if he has enough chances. This would be Romine’s chance. This opportunity brings me back to the Yankees’ catcher fluctuation post-Jorge Posada, where Russell Martin, Chris Stewart, and Francisco Cervelli all had tryouts in some sense for a starting role elsewhere.
Romine is much different than those players. Martin was a league-average hitter with great defense for 667 games before coming to the Yankees; Chris Stewart was an elite pitch framer; Cervelli had spurts of offensive success with good framing as well. With Romine, I don’t know if you could say the same.
In 371 plate appearances, Romine has hit .219/.256/.324 (53 wRC+). He’s been worth -0.6 fWAR. His framing, by Baseball Prospectus’ metrics, is slightly better than average. Then again, he’s never played more than 62 games in a single season.
If we’re being realistic, Romine is not long for pinstripes. Considering the stats above, and the lack of minor league options, it’s almost inevitable that he will eventually be optioned, and he will either go back to the minors or he will be claimed off of waivers. That puts him at a pretty critical juncture, one I’ll be interested to watch.
Major league scouts will be on the watch, I think. There’s always a need for backup catcher as a position of relative scarcity, and as I mentioned, he plays decent defense and works well with the pitching staff. If he were to go on a brief offensive outburst, that might raise a few eyebrows.
I’m really pulling for Romine. There was a time, and this seems like ancient history, when some within the organization thought he could be a viable long-term catching option, back when Jesus Montero was traded and Gary Sanchez was just a twinkle in our eyes. There was indeed a time (2010) when the BP Annual said “Romine has a very good chance to start in the majors, perhaps as Posada's heir.” That’s a long gone fantasy, and this is a different Yankees universe, but Romine has a chance in Sanchez’s absence to find a starting spot somewhere in baseball.