Yankees Austin Romine Looking Like a Third (or maybe Fourth) Wheel

Jul 30, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees catcher Austin Romine (27) at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 30, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees catcher Austin Romine (27) at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

New York Yankees backup-backup catcher Austin Romine hasn’t started a game since August 17th and is starting to look like a redundant use of a 25-man roster spot.

In the first two weeks after the New York Yankees called up rookie catcher Gary Sanchez, it looked like Austin Romine might serve as his primary backup, with incumbent starter sliding over to designated hitter full time.

From Sanchez’s promotion on August 3rd to August 17th, Romine started five games behind the plate and saw action in another three as first baseman.

However, since the 17th, Romine has not started a single game and his only two appearances have been pinch-hitting in back-to-back blowouts on Friday and Saturday.

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It’s understandable that Sanchez has been receiving the lion’s share of time as backstop given his performance. He’s only 23, so there’s no real reason to baby him.

When the Yankees have wanted to spell Sanchez, they’ve begun turning to McCann. The veteran has gotten a start at catcher in each of the last two series, while Romine has gotten none.

Before Sunday’s game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi explained Romine’s recent lack of playing time, telling reporters:

"Yeah, it’s another difficult situation, with Gary playing so well and taking over most of the time. It’s kind of left Austin not playing very much, because he’s meant a lot to this club and he’s done a lot of good things. But as players, if you’re a productive player and you have talent, your time always comes again. So you have to be prepared for when that comes."

Romine has spent his whole professional career in the New York Yankees organization. He was selected in the second round of the 2007 draft and has been in the system for a decade now.

While he received brief call ups in 2014 and 2015, this season is Romine’s first sticking with the big league club for an extended period. He’s hit .246/.272/.406 (73 wRC+) in 148 plate appearances this year while playing solid, but unspectacular defense.

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That’s not bad for a backup catcher, but it’s not exactly fantastic either. If the front office decides to keep Sanchez and McCann for 2017, continuing to carry Romine seems like a waste of a roster spot.

To make matters worse for Austin, 26-year-old catcher Kyle Higashioka has been one of the hottest hitters in the team’s minor league system this year. He’s destroyed the International League following his recent promotion to Triple-A, putting up a .274/.331/.573 (155 wRC+) slash line and has knocked a career high 20 homers between Scranton and Trenton.

If New York doesn’t add Higashioka to the 40 man roster this winter, he can walk as a minor league free agent. Considering what he’s shown this year, it seems safe to assume Higashioka could at the very least replicate Romine’s modest production in the big leagues.

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The team could be hanging onto Romine in anticipation of trading McCann and his $34 million salary this winter. New York could also choose to shop Romine, although it’s not clear he would bring back anything in return. Most teams already have a guy like Romine waiting in Triple-A. He’s pretty much the definition of replacement level.