With the addition of Travis Hafner, the Yankees have their regular lineup pretty much set. They’re still figuring out some alternatives to use against lefties, but the regular lineup against right-handers is more or less in place, with one notable exception: The Yankees still don’t have a starting catcher. It’s been this way ever since Russell Martin signed with the Pirates and Brian Cashman said he would likely stick with his in-house options.
The Yankees weren’t willing to top Pittsburgh’s two-year, $17-million offer to Martin, they weren’t crazy about A.J. Pierzynski, and the rest of the catching market was limit. And so the Yankees have done exactly what Cashman said he would: Nothing at all. They’ve signed Bobby Wilson to a minor league deal, but that’s hardly a game changer. Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart seem to be the favorites for the job, with the Yankees saying they still expect Austin Romine to open the season in Triple-A.
Really, there are two options, with the second option coming with a series of added choices: 1. Give the job to Romine, who has significantly less experience, but also seems to have a good glove with more offensive upside than the other choices. 2. Send Romine back to Triple-A for more minor league seasoning and give the job to one of the former backups. That means trusting that Stewart, Cervelli or Wilson — whichever wins the job — will do enough defensively to make up for what they lack offensively (or, just maybe, it means hoping that one of them outperforms offensive expectations). There is, of course, a third option that’s worth mentioning: See how the trade market develops during spring training. Maybe not ideal because the hypothetical catchers wouldn’t get many spring innings with the Yankees pitching staff, but might be necessary if the Yankees don’t like what they’re seeing from the current options.
One way or another, it seems certain that one of the three veterans will be the Yankees backup, so that trickle down impact is minimal. The real long-term impact centers on Romine, who would be a better position to claim the job had he not missed almost all of last season with a back injury. He has just 21 games of Triple-A experience, so the claim that he could benefit from some time in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre has some merit. But Romine is also 24 years old and spent two years in Double-A being blocked by Jesus Montero. Gary Sanchez could get to Trenton this year, so the window for Romine to establish himself — either as a big league starter, backup or none of the above — is fairly small. If he is sent to Triple-A, what would he have to show to earn a call-up?
Associated Press photo