Now that Austin Romine has left the Yankees for the Detroit Tigers New York will enter the 2020 season with Kyle Higashioka as Gary Sanchez’s backup. Higgy should do a good job but Romine’s departure only enhances how important it will be for Sanchez to stay healthy and avoid the IL throughout the season.
Losing Romine definitely stings, but I don’t think anyone was surprised to see him sign with another team this offseason. The Yankees never really seemed all that interested in bringing him back and Romine wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to make more money and sign with a team that would give him the opportunity to be their starting catcher.
The fact that Higgy was out of minor league options also made it an easier decision to let Romine go. The Yankees weren’t going to put themselves in a position where they had to designate Higgy for assignment and after he did a solid job backing up Romine the past two seasons he’s more than deserving of this promotion.
The 29-year-old Higgy is a capable backup on both sides of the ball, but he’s replacing the best backup catcher in baseball last season so expectations are going to be somewhat high as he enters this new role. He’s also now backing up a player in Sanchez who’s missed a combined 129 games over the past two seasons so there’s a good chance he’s going to play a decent amount.
The hope is that Higgy won’t be put into the same position Romine was put into, but Sanchez hasn’t given us any reason to believe that his injuries woes won’t continue. If they do we’re all going to find out very quickly if Higgy is up to the challenge of filling in for an extended period of time. As solid as he’s been in his limited stints with the big league club since 2018 I’m not sure he’s ready to carry the load on an everyday basis like Romine was.
That’s why it’s so pivotal for Sanchez to say healthy and continue to build off of what he accomplished when he was in the lineup during 2019. After a miserable injury-plagued 2018 campaign Gary bounced back in a big way, but he still only played in 106 games. Despite missing a lot of time Gary shined when he was healthy, hitting 34 home runs with 77 RBI and made drastic improvements defensively as well.
However, the second half of the season was a struggle for him in large part because of the injuries. After the All-Star break, he hit .207 with 10 HR, 20 RBI, and a .785 OPS after posting a clip of .871 during his first 261 at-bats. In early September he went down with another groin strain and although he was able to rush himself back just in time for the postseason he wasn’t himself and his timing looked way off throughout October.
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Every time Sanchez comes back from an extended stint on the IL it always takes him a while to get back on track and that’s really impacted his numbers dating back to the start of 2018. Before he got hurt last season he was the best hitting catcher in baseball and a legitimate first-half MVP candidate.
Gary has more talent than just about any backstop in baseball but he can be his own worst enemy at times and that needs to change for him to reach his full potential as a player in 2020. After the way his season ended, there might be more pressure on him than ever before to step up and play at an All-Star level for the entirety of the year.
The Yankees will enter the 2020 season as the prohibitive World Series favorites so it’s not just Sanchez who’s going to be facing pressure, but now that Romine is gone he needs to do whatever it takes to stay on the field. He can’t put his new, less experienced back up, in a position where he has to play in 60 to 70 games.
Especially now that Higgy is the only other catcher currently on the 40-man roster, so it’s not a position with a lot of depth throughout the organization.