Up until last week, the best offensive free agent catcher was begging for a contract from someone. If considering A.J. Pierzysnki, teams saw his 2012 offensive production, but also had to consider his defensive metrics, his age, and his character issues. Personally, I was completely against the idea of the Yankees signing him, but now that he’ll be a Ranger on a modest one-year deal, Yankee fans are free to second guess the club’s non-interest.
The organization has already signed four major league players to one year deals, and A.J. Pierzysnki would have been a similar low risk signing. At the age of 35, the catcher put together his best offensive season of his career, and was good for a 3.4 fWAR. In comparison, Martin received a three year deal after posting a 2.2 fWAR the same season. But age makes all the difference here, as Pierzysnki’s 2012 season was, and will likely remain, an outlier in his career. Even so, with Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, and Austin Romine prepared to start for the Yankees, can beggars be choosers?
The Yankees started listing their reasons immediately, and indicated that they particularly didn’t like his defense. Blocking balls and framing pitches has grown more important to the organization since Jorge Posada left the position. Last year’s catcher, Russell Martin, has a great defensive history behind the plate, despite a down season. Martin’s consistently listed in the top tier of pitch framers, and there is reason to believe that his glove was quite a few additional wins over the course of a year. It surprised most people when the Yankees uneventfully let him sign with the Pirates, and now it seems that the team is optimistic about Austin Romine.
Romine has missed plenty of time of late, but at one point he was a top prospect in the organization’s system. At the age of 24, Romine has only played 13 games behind the plate in Triple-A, and his career minor league numbers show a .278/.333/.414 slash. As unspectacular as they are, Romine has shown an a respectable approach at the plate. In the 497 plate appearances in 2011, he increased his walk rate to 8.6% and lowered his strikeout rate to 16.1%. Though not advanced, his walk rates and strikeout rates have improved throughout his career. Though I wouldn’t expect much offensively next season, Romine knows how to draw a walk and avoid strikeouts, and he still has some upside with the bat when you consider the weakness of his position.
As stated before, the Yankees care more about defense, and the organization thinks very highly of Romine in this category. When asked about the catcher, Yankees’ senior vice president of baseball operations, Mark Newman, said, “He’s a plus, plus defender. He can really play the position.” Of course, Newman’s not going to say he sucks, but as a respected name in the industry, Newman can’t call all his prospects “plus, plus defenders.” In the same interview, Newman told Chad Jennings of LoHud that he was happy with Romine’s bat, but was especially impressed by his receiving skills.
Personally, I still believe that there’s a better chance the team trades for a catcher, than have Romine start the season behind the plate, but if they are truly confident in his defense, than it puts together pieces of the catcher puzzle. If the Yankees were willing to let Martin and Pierzysnki walk while expressing such little interest, Romine might be the heir behind the plate.