As noted yesterday, free agency takes a little bit of a halt right now as teams must work with their arbitration-eligible players and get them signed. After agreeing to a $1.2 million deal with Greg Bird, the Yankees kept it going by agreeing to a one-year, $1.8 million with Austin Romine, per Bob Nightengale.
Shockingly, Romine only played in 77 games last year, though that number feels like it should be higher since Gary Sanchez had multiple trips to the disabled list. Still, Romine had his best year yet in 2018. Just because it was his best, that still doesn’t mean it was good.
Romine only managed to slash .244/.295/.417 with a 91 wRC+. Nonetheless, it was definitely a big jump in the right direction from his truly awful 2016 and 2017 seasons. Romine looking not terrible this year was also aided by Gary Sanchez and his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year. Usually when Romine’s playing, we take the time to miss Sanchez, but the Kraken taking the year off combined with Romine’s improvements made him slightly more tolerable.
While a different approach led to his offensive improvement, as a backup catcher in MLB, his true value comes behind the plate. Romine’s not a great pitch framer, but has always been a solid blocker. And in addition to his steps forward at the plate, he made improvements with his arm as well, throwing out 16 baserunners (26.2%).
I’ve long beat the drum for the Yankees to pursue a better alternative to Romine, and still think if one is out there, they should go that route. I don’t really have faith in Romine to continue in an upward trend due to his history, but if his improvements are real, Romine 2.0 could very well be that alternative.
Still though, Romine’s role is Gary Sanchez’s backup and that much should be clear. He’s fine to play once or twice a week, but there’s no world where he should be starting important games over Sanchez.