Higashioka, who once struggled to break through as the Yankees' third catcher and went 0-for-18 in his 2017 debut stretch before being demoted again, having to wait until his second MLB season for his first big league hit, socked 10 home runs in each of the past three years. He became the preferred starter of plenty as Gary Sánchez struggled in the 2020 playoffs. That's a pretty exceptional Yankees career, and one that lasted far longer than it seemed it would.
But, with Austin Wells ready for primetime, Jose Trevino returning, and Ben Rortvedt sparking a relationship with Gerrit Cole, the time has come for Higashioka to be non-tendered, allowing the Yankees to spend his estimated $2 million elsewhere next season.
Higashioka isn't beloved by defensive metrics as much as he is by his teammates, and losing Judge's even-lower-key companion will be a tough blow and a rude reintroduction to the business of baseball. But retaining an aging backup doesn't make sense for this Yankees team that, if anything, could still stand to improve the talent behind the plate, even with three names already entrenched. This will be a tough goodbye, but the moment has already passed. Higashioka did not play between Sept. 19 and Sept. 29.