The Yankees are nearing the completion of their Opening Day roster, with little more to do than prep for spring training. One of the few areas left to lock down is who the backup catcher to Gary Sanchez will be.
Austin Romine departed for the Tigers this offseason, and the Yankees had an interest in bringing Martin Maldonado into the mix to catch his former teammate Gerrit Cole, but Maldonado is reportedly returning to the Astros. The Yankees have Kyle Higashioka on the roster and could certainly try him out for the spot in spring training, but it couldn’t hurt to add some veteran competition into the mix.
Fortunately, despite some of the big-name catchers coming off the market with new contracts, there are still plenty of vets to consider. Could any of these backstops wind up wearing pinstripes in 2020?
2019 looked like a swan song season for Martin, who returned to the first team he played for in a backup role with the Dodgers. After getting eliminated in the NLDS by the eventual-champion Nationals, however, it seems Martin still has a desire to play and compete for a ring, and he could find one playing on a former team of his.
Martin isn’t the power threat that he once was, hitting well below his career slugging percentage, but he’s managed to get on base at a decent clip. His glove work is strong, as he didn’t commit an error all season and he rates well as a framer, but his arm is going to allow runners a good chance to steal. Martin caught only five of 28 runners stealing last year, an 18% rate that fell below league average.
Jason Castro is one of the free agents that balances on the line between quality backup catcher and starting-caliber catcher. Castro was a member of Minnesota’s deep, power-heavy lineup, contributing 13 dingers himself to the new team home-run record. Castro got a chance at starting early in his career with the Astros, but found success transitioning into the second option last season.
Picking up Castro would have two major benefits for the Yankees. First, he’s good enough to stick right into the backup role without much of a competition. Higashioka is promising, but he would probably lose out to Castro if they both competed in spring. Second, Castro would be a decent fill-in for Sanchez should the starter fall on the IL at some point. Castro has had starting experience and isn’t too old to worry about holding down the fort for any extended time. That being said, if he can find a team willing to give him an opportunity as the starter immediately, the Yankees might get outbid.
If the Yankees have to look further down the priority list for catchers, it might not be a bad idea to check in on Kevin Plawecki. Plawecki has plenty of experience handling an elite pitching staff in New York, having caught for the Mets for his first four seasons. An offseason trade last year brought him to Cleveland, where he took a step back with his bat and continued to play a part-time role.
Plawecki would figure to fit in well if the Yankees want a healthy competition in spring, and a decent option to have on-hand if he doesn’t win the job. A minor-league deal like the one Erik Kratz signed may work best, but if he doesn’t get any other offers a tryout with the Yankees would certainly be appealing.
If those options aren’t interesting, perhaps a catcher with experience in the division might work. Caleb Joseph was a familiar face for five seasons, sharing the catching duties in Baltimore. Last year he went off to Arizona where he saw little of the major-league field, playing only 20 games for the Diamondbacks.
When Joseph last had consistent playing time in the majors, he was up-and-down defensively. He made mistakes with the ball, committing seven errors and allowing five passed balls, but he also was above-average at shutting down the running game. Joseph threw out twenty runners and had a 33% caught stealing rate, alleviating some of the pressure from a Baltimore staff that struggled immensely. Joseph is a player that could be more likely to stick around past spring if he gets a minor-league deal, so taking a flyer on him might be possible.