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How do the Yankees solve a problem like catching depth?

Gary is scary, but the options behind him are truly horrifying

League Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Succession planning is a vital part of an organization’s approach to the future. Most significantly large corporations will have a list of potential CEOs when the existing chief executive leaves the position, and universities are continually tapping the best professors or administrators for Dean and Provost openings.

The same exercise is true in baseball, where teams should be penciling in potential replacements in the event of a free agent departure or injury. The latter element makes succession planning, and appropriate depth, even more important in baseball, since you can lose the equivalent of a Dean or CEO on a botched stolen base or the like.

One of those high-level, valuable positions for the New York Yankees is held by Gary Sanchez. Sanchez is the best catcher in the American League, and as soon as Buster Posey slows down, will probably be the best catcher in all of baseball. Since his electric debut two seasons ago, Sanchez has posted a ridiculous 6.53 fWAR per 650 plate appearences, or about one full season.

For context, only 15 catcher-seasons have produced that much value in a single season since 1920, and that list is populated by the likes of Johnny Bench and Gary Carter. It’s not understating it to say a full season of Gary Sanchez at that rate would be one of the most impressive campaigns in baseball history.

Unlike the other Very Valuable Yankees on the 2018 roster, though, there isn’t really any depth behind Sanchez. Should Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton underperform or be injured, the Yankees have a repository of skilled outfielders that can step up. Should something happen to Gary, the Yankees would truly be in a bind.

Coming into spring training, the Yankees have invited four catchers along with last year’s pair of Sanchez and Austin Romine. At first glance, no possible backup jumps off the page. For one, Romine himself failed to even be replacement level in 2017, which should be difficult for a “defense-first” backup catcher. Erik Kratz had one of the greatest offensive seasons in Yankee history - 600 wRC+! - albeit in just four games, and nothing in his track record suggests he’s any more than a Triple-A/Quad-A piece.

Kyle Higashioka, meanwhile, seems like he’d be a suitable replacement in event of a crisis, but something in the way the Yankees have handled Higgy makes me pump the brakes on that idea. He battled injuries in 2017, true, but in his previous seven years in pro ball, despite putting up solid numbers in the minors, the Yankees have never given him an extended look. It’s not as though Romine has ever been particularly capable, so the opportunities have historically been there for Higashioka to make a push as a backup. There must be something in his profile and makeup the front office isn’t high on, and I find it hard to expect they’d have much confidence in him moving forward.

The remaining spring training invites are a collection of minor leaguers who don’t offer much in terms of ceilings or floors, revealing just how shallow the catching position is behind Gary Sanchez. That lack of depth is a glaring concern on an otherwise impressive team, and harkens back to one of the biggest mistakes of the 2017 season.

Headed into last year, we all thought Greg Bird was going to be starting at first base, and few people were concerned that Chris Carter, a bad player, was the only viable backup at the time. The logic was, if Carter ended up playing a big chunk of the season, something had already gone terribly wrong and so there was no point in trying to mitigate it. Of course, something DID go terribly wrong, and we were forced to endure the Yankees’ lack of capable backups for the majority of the 2017 season, a lack highlighted by the fact the Yankees had a near-historic dearth of production from first base.

Gary Sanchez is an incredible talent, and if everything breaks the Yankees’ way, he could end up the most valuable player on the entire roster. The problem is, he’s essentially on a desert island of Yankee catchers, and what happens if everything DOESN’T break the Yankees’ way?