Gary Sanchez remains the Yankees’ catcher of the present and the future. General manager Brian Cashman has made that clear since Sanchez arrived in The Bronx.
The Yankees are less certain, though, about who his backup will be.
Austin Romine has filled that position for the past four years and is entering free agency for the first time. Further complicating matters is the fact that Kyle Higashioka is out of options, meaning the Yankees can’t send him down to the minors next season without putting him through waivers.
Cashman said on Thursday he remains engaged with Romine’s agents, but was also adamant that the organization is fine with Higashioka as Sanchez’s primary backup.
It’s no small decision, considering Sanchez’s injury history. Earlier in the offseason, Cashman said one of the team’s goals was to try to figure out how to keep Sanchez, who has dealt with injures each of the past two seasons, healthy and productive throughout the season.
He had a left shoulder injury that led to a horrific 2018 season, and his bounceback in 2019 was hurt by calf and groin issues.
The Yankees will weigh whether more rest and days off may help Sanchez, meaning Romine or Higashioka could see more playing time.
Romine has been effective each of the past two seasons, appearing in 77 and 72 games, respectively. But he’ll be 31 next week and could earn a two-year deal elsewhere as the Yankees keep an eye on their payroll.
Higashioka, 29, made his MLB debut in 2017 and has impressed the Yankees with his growth behind the plate.
And they will no longer be able to stash him in the minors.
“Like a lot of aspects of our roster, we feel we have the personnel that can do the job that we have high confidence in,’’ Cashman said. “The question comes down to, is that the best person to handle the job in the overall structure?’’
Team control and salary also factor into that, but Cashman said he was “comfortable” with the possibility of Higashioka being the lone backup.
“We feel he’s ready to go,’’ Cashman said.
He didn’t close the door on a return of Romine.
“I can’t predict how that’s gonna play out,’’ the GM said.
However it ends up, the Yankees will be looking to put Sanchez in a position in which he’s able to have a more productive postseason than he did in either of the past two seasons, when the catcher struggled in the playoffs.
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