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The Yankees have a catching problem

The Yankees need to find a better solution at the catcher position if they want to be truly great

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With Gary Sanchez on the injured list, the Yankees once again have a problem at the catcher position. Austin Romine finds himself behind the plate on an everyday basis for the second straight season, while Kyle Higashioka has been called up from the minors to fill in as the backup. Luckily, it sounds like Gary Sanchez is not in line to miss much more than his initial ten days on the injured list, but he’s not exactly instilling confidence that he can stay healthy behind the plate for 130+ games every year.

The catcher position isn’t frequently viewed as a weakness for the Yankees when you consider the All-Star caliber talent of Sanchez and a stable veteran backup in Romine. However, when Sanchez battles injuries the Yankees’ production suffers mightily. Romine is a career .228/.272/.346 hitter in 302 games, and slashed .244/.295/.417 in a career year in 2018. League average for a catcher in 2018 was .233/.304/.374, making Romine a slightly above average offensive catcher in the grand scheme of things. He’s also an above average defensive catcher, according to his 9.7 defensive WAR last season (FanGraphs).

So what’s the problem? The problem is that slightly above average never won anybody the World Series. With championship aspirations, the Yankees need to find a way to get more production out of the position through roster moves or a reshuffling of some pieces.

If Sanchez could play 100+ games at catcher, the Yankees would likely find themselves among the top handful of teams in terms of WAR at the catcher position, but it remains to be seen. Last season Sanchez made 320 plate appearances as the catcher. Romine and Kyle Higashioka combined for 397 plate appearances, good for roughly 55% of total plate appearances for Yankees catchers on the season. So far this season Sanchez has made 62% of plate appearances for Yankees catchers, but that number will continue to decline as he makes his way back from the IL.

What’s most troublesome is the nature of Sanchez’s injuries. Sanchez missed large stretches of the 2018 season with a nagging groin injury, and he’s currently recovering from a strained calf. There might not be two worse injuries for somebody you expect to catch on an everyday basis. The Yankees can proceed a few different ways. They can continue to put Sanchez behind the plate every day upon his return, or they can give him more DH at-bats, forcing Stanton to play left field on a regular basis. Another option is to look for new ways to keep Sanchez healthy by removing him from the position and trying him at first base in the future.

It’s currently hard to envision the Yankees replacing Luke Voit at first base, so the best option is probably to give Sanchez more DH at-bats when he re-enters the lineup. The bottom line is that Sanchez hasn’t proven capable of staying healthy behind the plate, and receiving average production from your backup catchers isn’t much of a positive when they’re forced to play more than half the games throughout the season.

The situation is going to get increasingly interesting in the coming years as Stanton truly becomes an every day DH and the Yankees are forced to find at-bats for Sanchez without exposing him to too many innings behind the plate. If it reaches that point, the front office will be forced to make some very difficult roster decisions. The Yankees are in a very unique position of having quite possibly MLB’s most talented catcher, and a handful of factors to consider at the catcher position.