According to Sweeny Murti of WFAN, the Yankees and Chris Iannetta have struck a deal of the minor-league variety. This comes on the heels of the recent signing of Erik Kratz, with the Bombers apparently prioritizing low-end catcher depth.
Iannetta has had, so far, a good career. He has accumulated 15.5 bWAR and 7.6 fWAR. In fact, he is one of just six backstops with at least 15 bWAR and a .750+ OPS for his career, along with Buster Posey, Yasmani Grandal, Jonathan Lucroy, JT Realmuto and Wilson Ramos. He has a lifetime .230/.345/.406 slash line with a .331 wOBA and a precisely average 100 wRC+ over the course of 14 years in the majors.
Iannetta will play the 2020 season at 37 years old, so it is safe to say that his best days are behind him. Given the context of the team’s roster, there’s little reason to think he has a shot to win the backup catcher job for the Yankees.
Kyle Higashioka is still entrenched as the backup catcher behind Gary Sanchez. It will be his spot to lose, as he doesn’t have any minor league options left. If the Yankees were to designate Higashioka at any point in 2020, he would be exposed to waivers. Murti detailed that Iannetta will provide, along with Kratz, “veteran depth and competition” for Higgy.
It is believed that Eric Kratz and Iannetta will offer depth in Scranton, although the Yankees are surely leaving the door open for any of them to beat Higashioka if their performances really back it up.
The Colorado Rockies, where Iannetta spent eight of his 14 years in the bigs, released the catcher last August and he didn’t sign with any other team for the stretch run. At this point in his career, Iannetta no longer has the goods to be a starting catcher. He was a legitimate one back in the day, especially in 2008, 2011 and 2014. Those were his best seasons in terms of bWAR, with 3.2, 3.1 and 2.4, respectively.
He is coming off a .222/.311/.417 season in Colorado, though, with six homers and 11.0 BB% in 164 plate appearances. He struck out 32.9 percent of the time, however, and accrued -0.5 fWAR with negative values in offense (-8.6 batting runs) defense (-2.2) and baserunning (-2.2.) His framing was well-below average according to Baseball Savant, who put him in the 28th percentile leaguewide.
Iannetta’s expected wOBA (xwOBA) was very low at .312, mainlydue to his high strikeout rate. However, when he made contact, he made it count: he had a .430 xwOBAcon (xwOBA on contact) with a 51.6 hard-hit rate and an average exit velocity of 92.1 mph.
At this point in his career, he is a low-contact, high-power catcher with limited defensive abilities, but enough experience and guile to fight for a backup catcher job. The Yankees signed him as depth, but if he excels in Scranton and Higashioka struggles with the Yankees, maybe Iannetta can force a difficult decision.
It won’t be easy, though, given that the team will be loath to designate Higashioka. Moreover, If Iannetta is called up because Gary Sanchez or Higashioka got hurt, Iannetta will likely simply be designated for assignment as soon as the incumbent player returns from injury. It’s tight spot to be in for a veteran catcher, but so it goes for late-career players clinging onto whatever slight chance they may get.