The offseason trade of Gary Sánchez made the Yankees’ position on the catcher position clear — defense was now the priority, and the days of bat-first catchers were gone. Kyle Higashioka and Jose Trevino, once he was acquired, would frame the day away for the New York pitchers, and any hitting skills they could show would be a nice benefit. (All the talk from Aaron Boone about how Higashioka could be a presence with the bat proved to be just talk, unsurprisingly.)
Higgy has been frankly terrible with at the plate, basically an automatic out. He’s slashing .164/.222/.205 — his on-base percentage is higher than his slugging percentage! He has a 0.0 fWAR and -0.5 bWAR. While his defense still rates well, his hitting skills have been so low as to negate any value to the team.
Trevino has been much better. He has a 1.0 fWAR through 31 games played, with a 110 wRC+. His offense will drop closer to his career norms over time, but so far he’s been a better than average hitter, while rating as the fourth-best catcher at framing pitches according to Baseball Savant.
Higashioka is ranked 33rd in framing, which is surprising considering his reputation. That’s below even Sánchez. Obviously Brian Cashman didn’t expect Higgy to be quite this bad, but as it stands right now, giving him at-bats would be indefensible if not for the fact that Trevino can’t play every game.
I think at this point it’s clear that a better plan for a catching tandem would have been pairing a defensive-minded player like Trevino with someone with higher upside on offense, even if their defense wasn’t quite as up to par.
Sánchez has a 0.5 fWAR for the Minnesota Twins so far, a number that might be higher if he hadn’t missed time with injuries. That positive WAR even accounts for the negative value he provides on defense. He’s been more valuable than Higgy by far, with a 117 wRC+ to his 25.
I’m not saying that the Yankees should be playing Sánchez specifically — there was clearly a lot of frustration between him, the front office, and the coaching staff, and there didn’t seem like there was very much love lost when he was suddenly traded away. The freedom of a fresh start and fewer eyes might be part of what’s helping Gary play well up north. He’s just an example of a flawed player who, despite not having the skillset at catcher that the Yankees decided to zero in on, is having a better season than one-half of their catching team, on the value of his bat.
If Higgy has had a key role in helping the starting rotation to be so successful through April and May, then that argument changes quite a bit. But if his framing is not actually that successful, then there’s just not much he can contribute on the field. The pitchers undoubtedly like throwing to him, based on their public comments, but Matt Blake seems the much more likely culprit for the staff’s breakout, along with offense being depressed overall.
A player with a good chance to hit a long home run, even if he can’t block or frame well, would be a nice change of pace in the catcher spot, the way things are currently going. Trevino has been a breath of fresh air, but a catcher with more pop to pair with him could be a priority for the Yankees as the season goes on, especially if Higgy can’t get it going.