In a highly scrutinized move by the front office Wednesday, the Yankees acquired outfielder Aaron Hicks for backup catcher John Ryan Murphy. With the deal, the Yankees are left with two candidates to take Murphy's spot on the roster: long-time minor leaguer Austin Romine, and Arizona Fall League standout Gary Sanchez.
Romine, 26, made two plate appearances in the majors last year, following a September call-up. He spent the rest of last season in Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre, appearing in 92 games. In those 92 games, he made 366 plate appearances, where he slashed .260/.311/.379 with a 99 wRC+. The 2007 second-round pick held the starting catcher role for the RailRiders from opening day until mid-July. On July 18, the RailRiders announced that Sanchez would be called up from Double-A Trenton to replace Romine, who suffered a thumb injury. This injury held Romine out for 10 days, and Sanchez started for the RailRiders. Prior to the injury, Romine was the starter over 29-year-old Eddy Rodriguez (who just elected free agency). Personally, I was concerned that both catchers wouldn't get enough playing time being in Scranton, but even when Romine returned from injury, both catchers played nearly everyday, with one being the DH.
Sanchez spent his first half in Double-A, playing in 58 games. He had 254 plate appearances in those games, in which he slashed .262/.319/.476 and a 127 wRC+. Sanchez also hit 12 home runs in his time in Trenton. When he went to Triple-A, he actually improved his numbers against better pitching. In 146 plate appearances (35 games), Sanchez slashed .295/.349/.500 with a 145 wRC+, and hit six home runs.
Sanchez's AFL stats so far have really opened up eyes across the league. In his first 18 games (80 plate appearances), Sanchez's slash line is .299/.329/.649, with an AFL-leading seven home runs and 19 RBI. Sanchez has not only impressed with his bat, but he's also shown off his great arm.
With the AFL season Sanchez is having so far, his trade value has never been higher. Although, with Murphy out of town, Sanchez could start 2016 in the majors, instead of being blocked and stuck in Triple-A. Should Sanchez earn the backup role instead of Romine? Yes.
Romine was in a situation like this last year. He was in a contest with Murphy for the backup catcher role, and Murphy beat him out in spring training. That decision worked out very well for the team. Meanwhile, Romine is in the last year of his contract before pre-arbitration, and most importantly, he has no minor league options remaining. Meaning, if the Yankees weren't pleased with his performance behind Brian McCann, and they wanted to send him back to Triple-A, he would have to clear through waivers. In 2013, Romine has been in the majors for an extended period before, playing 60 games (148 plate appearances) in 2013, where he slashed .207/.255/.296 with a 49 wRC+, splitting time with Chris Stewart (109 games), Francisco Cervelli (17 games), and Murphy (16 games).
Meanwhile, if the Yankees keep Sanchez, his recent performance already gives him an advantage over Romine, so there's little reason why Sanchez shouldn't at least be given the spot out of spring training. If, for some reason, Sanchez really struggles against major league pitching, he can be sent to minors without having to pass through waivers, and Romine can take his spot.
2015 was a huge step forward for Sanchez, as he finally broke out of Double-A after two-plus seasons there. Not only that, but he earned a spot on the major league roster when September came around, and even appeared in two games. If his AFL season to date is a sign of things to come, then Yankees fans should feel nothing but excitement. Just a few days ago, Sanchez was seen as a trade chip that could bring a nice piece to the Yankees. Now, Sanchez looks like he could work his way into the major league picture in 2016. Do you think Romine or Sanchez makes more sense as backup catcher? If Sanchez, do you keep Romine in the minors? If Romine, do you try to deal Sanchez while his value is high?