The Yankees offense has been about as average as it gets in 2023. The bombers rank 15th of 30 in wRC+, with a perfectly average mark of 100 as a team headed out of their series with the Rays. There are certainly worse things a team could be, but it’s not ideal for one that hopes to be a top-end contender. While there have been issues all over the place, especially when Aaron Judge was missing, the offensive output at catcher has been particularly sparse. It’s not like New York has a perfect answer to this issue, but perhaps more playing time for Kyle Higashioka could help things, even if it hurts them in other areas. All things considered, the catching situation in the Bronx is not ideal in any direction, and it could remain that way for the foreseeable future.
Jose Trevino was an All-Star in 2022, and was one of the biggest surprises of the first half last season. In that first half, he had a 103 wRC+, and was setting career-best marks in virtually every category. His second half, however, was not nearly as successful. Trevino reverted back to his career norms of sub-par production, but still maintained his stellar defense. Despite the drop-off with the bat, he ended the year as one of baseball’s ten most valuable backstops by fWAR.
This year, unfortunately, things have been even worse at the plate for Trevino. He has a 60 wRC+ so far, and is slashing just .202/.253/.326. That huge surprise first half now feels like a distant memory, and while his defense will always keep him afloat, an improvement in this department would surely be welcomed.
Now, the Yankees’ other option, Kyle Higashioka, is not the poster boy for offensive production, but he has been a fair bit better in 2023. In 17 games he’s slashed .212/.281/.423, good for a 94 wRC+, just about average for a big league catcher.
Of course, this isn’t exactly something to write home about, but he has been a good deal better with the bat than Trevino thus far. A league average offensive catcher with some pop is an upgrade over Trevino and his 60 wRC+, and Higgy is probably the better true talent hitter in the larger picture.
As true as this may be, it doesn’t exactly fully solve any problems. Higashioka probably is the better hitter all things considered, but it does not account for Trevino’s defense, something the Yankees seem to value quite a bit. We can even see with the goings-on in St. Louis that losing a great defensive catcher can have quite the impact. It’s hard to say to what extent giving this up impacts a team as a whole, but it would be hard to deny it carrying quite a bit of weight.
When the idea to propose some more playing time for Higashioka popped into my head, it made some sense: he’s been a better hitter than Trevino in limited time, and it seems like Trevino’s surprising first half of ‘22 is a thing of the past. But as I sat there, mentally fleshing out the idea, I realized that I was spending time at 11:30 p.m. trying to convince myself that a 94 wRC+ catcher should get some more playing time. All of this is to say, this situation is far from ideal for the Yankees.
Sadly, Trevino seems to be a bit of a liability with the bat, and while it’s likely that Higashioka could be something much closer to a league average bat for the position, it wouldn’t come without a cost. Giving up a defender as good as Trevino behind the dish could have negative impacts in a number of areas — even if it’s hard to know exactly how much, the impact would be hard to ignore.
In all reality, the answer to this problem is that the Yankees would need to develop their own catcher, something that is much easier said than done. And around the league, the position is notably weak on offense, so this is an issue that likely won’t be resolved any time in the near future. The Yankees could do always do worse than a combination of Trevino and Higashioka, but they could certainly do better, too. As things stand, they will just need to find the right balance between their two guys to optimize what they each bring to the table.