The Yankees brought a lot of catchers into camp this year, but only a few of them have a real chance to make the MLB team. Some might consider Gary Sanchez the favorite, almost by default, but there might be more competition than we originally thought. Not because there's someone better, but because contract statuses will prevent them from simply giving Sanchez the role.
Obviously, the Yankees intended for the 23-year-old backstop to compete with Austin Romine, at least as a formality. After all, Brian Cashman never promises a young player anything. However, when they signed veteran catcher Carlos Corporan to a minor league deal, it added a wild card into the mix. Was he just more competition? A depth signing? It would take some time to find out the team's intentions and it turns out that Corporan has an opt out date in his contract for the end of March, making his presence in camp a little more interesting. If the Yankees intended for him to play in Triple-A, they wouldn't have given him a way out, but could he have a real chance at making the big league club?
It would be easy to look at his statistics and MLB track record and see that he has no upside or reason to play over a young, talented future star, but this is about roster structure more than anything else. If Gary Sanchez becomes the backup catcher, the Yankees would have to designate Austin Romine for assignment because he is out of options. He made it through waivers last year, but there's definitely a chance he could get claimed this time. If Carlos Corporan opts out and they also lose Romine, they'll have no depth–something the Yankees do not like to be without.
Giving Corporan an opt out clause–and assigning him a number as low as 17, no less–shows that they're taking his chances seriously in camp. He was also noted to be working with Dellin Betances as they probably want him to be familiar with the pitching staff if they do choose to go with him. As Chad Jennings put it, the Yankees would essentially be choosing "between his experience, Sanchez's upside or Romine's familiarity." If you've been paying attention, the Yankees almost always have picked the defensive-first veteran in these situations. Perhaps things have changed since they saw John Ryan Murphy thrive, but it's still a trend to keep in mind.
We, and the Yankees themselves, might all want to see Gary Sanchez get a chance in the majors, especially after the kind of season he had last year, but it might not be so simple. The backup catcher might be one of the least important players on a major league roster, especially in April when the starter is healthy and playing every day. It would be an easy choice to keep Sanchez in Triple-A for a few months when he would otherwise be on the bench. In the end, it would seem that Corporan's opt out clause could also be about manipulating Gary Sanchez's service time. Play Romine or Corporan sparingly through June and then call up Sanchez to share some playing time with Brian McCann.
We don't like it hear it, but it happens. They weren't really worried about it with Greg Bird, but the presence of McCann makes the catching situation different. We'll just have to see how things play out over the next few weeks.