New York Yankees News: Yankees finally sign a new catcher, is “Higgy’s” job in jeopardy?

William Parlee
Sep 19, 2020; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets catcher Robinson Chirinos (26) at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was busy yesterday; as I reported late last night, the Yankees signed a bullpen arm in Justin Wilson. I have been writing all offseason that at some point, the Yankees are going to have to address the fact that they only have two catchers, which they can’t live with. I learned during the night, as first reported by Ken Rosenthal, that they have finally addressed that situation signing another former New York Met in catcher Robinson Chirinos.

If the Yankees were to start the season with only two catchers and Gary Sanchez was injured, which history tells us is not out of the question, that would leave only Kyle Higashioka. “Higgy” has a good injury history, but if he were hit in the head by a ball, or the like the Yankees, then would have to use a position player to back him up, then bring up a not ready for a prime catcher from the minor leagues. The Yankees clearly needed another Major League catcher to prevent that situation.

Earlier in the offseason, there was even a question if Gary Sanchez would be the starting catcher after having a horrible season last year on both sides of the plate, or if Kyle Higashioka would be. There was also a question if Sanchez would be traded with the Yankees going into free agency to find a new catcher. That was all answered when the New York Yankee front office tendered Sanchez and gave him a small raise in pay. Since then, Cashman has made it clear that they have faith in Sanchez and that he would be the Yankees starting catcher in 2021.

The singing of Chirinos is an insurance policy for the Yankees. If things go as you might expect, Chirinos, who was signed to a minor league contract, will start the season at Scranton Wilkes/Barre. Meanwhile, Sanchez and Higasioka will fight for playing time at the Stadium. As I stated before, Sanchez was painful to watch last season. He hit only .147 and wasn’t great behind the plate either. As the season progressed, Higashioka became Gerrit Cole’s everyday catcher. “Higgy” played and caught really well last year, so good that as the season was coming to a close, he caught more often while Sanchez was benched. In the postseason, he took over being the everyday catcher. Sanchez only caught in two postseason games.

Now with the signing of Chirinos, a new wrinkle has appeared in the Yankee catching saga. If Higashioka doesn’t perform well in spring training, will Chirinos emerge as the backup catcher for Sanchez? Here is why that could happen. In his nine-year career, Chirinos has caught for the Tampa Bay Rays, the Texas Rangers, and last year with the New York Mets. But the wrinkle appears in the fact that he caught for the Houston Astros during the 2019 season when he became Gerrit Coles’s personal catcher. Therein lies the challenge for Higashioka. Cole will not have two unique catchers; it will probably end up being who shines in spring training.

Here is the record with these two catchers catching for Gerrit Cole: Over 68 ²/₃ innings with Chirinos as the catcher, Cole pitched to a 1.57 ERA with 114 strikeouts and 11 walks. Last season including the postseason Cole’s ERA with Higashioka behind the plate was 1.32, as he had allowed only five earned runs with an outrageous 47 strikeouts and only five walks over 34 innings.

Higashioka in 2020 hit .250 with four home runs in 48 plate appearances. Chirinos with the Mets hit only .162 with one homer in 72 at-bats. Both players are good defenders at the backstop. On the face of those stats, it appears that the backup catchers’ job will be Kyle Higashioka’s to lose. It will be another interesting New York Yankees’ storyline to watch as we approach opening day on April 1.