New York Yankees: Catcher Erik Kratz on Deivi Garcia, retirement and his future in baseball (video)

New York Yankees, Erik Kratz

It was a surprise for the casual New York Yankee fan when the little-known Erik Kratz burst on the scene late in the 2020 season as the Yankee catcher who caught Deivi Garcia’s Major League Debut. Before we get into that, it’s important that you know a little more about Kratz.

Kratz was a journeyman catcher for his 18-year baseball career. After playing for seven years with minor league affiliates of the Blue Jays, from 2002 through 2008, Kratz signed a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009. It is with the Pirates that Kratz made his Major League debut in 2010. Throughout his career, Kratz was known as an excellent defender but a sub-par hitter, causing him to play second fiddle to the starting catchers for nine different teams. But throughout his career, he was also known for identifying and working well with young up and coming players and catchers. His longest stint was with the Philadelphia Phillies, where he caught for four years. He also caught for the Royals, Astros, Giants, Rays, Jays, Brewers, and of course the New York Yankees for two different stints.

After graduating from a Mennonite High School in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, he attended Eastern Mennonite University, where he caught for their baseball team. From 1999 Kratz caught every at-bat for every game he played in and was named the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Player of the Year twice. In his senior year, he batted .507/.563/.993, with 25 doubles, one triple, and 14 home runs with 59 RBI’s in 142 at-bats. He broke the NCAA Division III records for doubles in a career. He never reached that hitting dominance in the majors.

Kratz was traded to the New York Yankees in August of 2017, for the Yankees as they fought for a postseason berth; Kratz appeared in only two games as a pinch hitter, in both appearances, he got a hit, one a double for a batting average of 1.000 on the season. When the season was over, he declined an outright assignment to Triple-A at the start of November 2017 and became a free agent. On December 13, he signed a minor league contract with the Yankees. In 2018, playing for the team’s AAA affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Kratz batted .269/.356/.538 in 52 at-bats, but during May of the year, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers.

On June 8, 2019, Kratz signed a minor league deal with the Yankees. He batted .299/.375/.500, with 7 home runs and 31 RBI’s, in 154 at-bats for AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Kratz became a free agent following the 2019 season, but he re-signed on a minor league deal for the 2020 season. He was called up to the New York Yankees on August 8 after an injury to backup catcher Kyle Higashioka. During a pre-game interview in early September, Kratz became emotional when asked about his influence and role in helping young pitchers, particularly Latin pitchers, (he speaks Spanish) develop their game and succeed at the major league level. Kratz said:

“I love seeing what they can do… I think sometimes some people forget where they come from, some people forget that they want (to succeed) just as badly, and there’s people back home who want it just as badly for them.”

Erik ended his 2020 season with one of the best batting averages of his career; he hit .321 and only stuck out 6 times in 28 at-bats. But that was not the highlight of his years with the Yankees; it was catching and particularly catching Deivi Garcia’s Major League debut. The two loved their relationship with Garcia saying in an interview that he owes much of his success to the mentorship of Kratz. Kratz also made the Yankees quote of the season. On August 31, 2020, Kratz left the dugout to catch for the Yankees. Looking back at the dugout, the 40-year-old yelled:

“I’m so excited to go play catch with my son!”

On November 6, 2020, Erik Kratz decided to call it a career and retired from baseball. He cited wanting to spend time with his wife and family. He is now home with his family in Pennsylvania, enjoying his retirement and deciding his baseball future.  With his ability to relate and work with young players, he certainly has a lock on being a coach for one of the 30 Major League teams. Still, many industry insiders say that he is manager material. I can’t forget to mention that on September 20, 2020, Kratz became the oldest position player to pitch for the Yankees and his knuckleball was nasty. Recently The Atlantic caught up with Kratz at his home and interviewed him on his retirement and future. When asked about how his first season in retirement was going, he had this to say:

It’s a little bit different. As a player, my focus and approach was always to leave no stone unturned. I just would do everything I could to be ready for the season, because as a player, I never viewed myself as good enough to just kind of roll out there and see what happens. If I hadn’t retired, I would have started throwing two days ago. It’s nice to not have to do that. I’m not jonesing for like okay, we need some competition or something. I think I make myself competitive otherwise. It sounds so cheesy, but I’m working hard at being the best dad, I can be and the best husband I can be.”

The Atlantic also pointed out his special relationship with Deivi Garcias and other young Yankee players. They asked Kratz what it’s like to experience working with those players and their relationships.

“We’ve talked at length about Deivi and you know how his demeanor, his maturity, is above-average. But just because he’s above average in those areas, it doesn’t mean that he’s already the perfect player or the perfect person. There’s still like, not just baseball lessons but life lessons that will help him grow. But no way am I sitting here saying, “Oh, you know, you guys need to listen to me. I’m a sage old veteran.” That’s not how it works. It’s something that’s just a constant practice. It’s a, “show me, don’t tell me” kind of thing. For me, I really enjoy that one. It’s practice for my kids at home, too. It’s really important to me that I could hopefully help somebody. I don’t care if it’s somebody just in the big leagues for three years or for 10 years.”

The magazine also asked the obvious question if he wanted to go into coaching. Kratz said, “when the time is right.”  He also stated that he received a Major League offer to coach this past season; he was flattered but wasn’t done playing. He also pointed out that he wanted to retire and be home, whether it be a year or 10 years when his youngest graduates high school. He also stated:

“To be particularly honest, I don’t know that coaching is what’s best for me. Maybe it would be more like starting a mentorship program or having some type of front office hiring position. There’s a lot of things that intrigue me.”

One this is for sure, still being relatively young Erik Kratz is a New York Yankee that we will hear much more about in the future, maybe working with young players again as a Yankee coach or manager. We know he will go wherever he can make the biggest impact. Kratz is an extraordinary individual.

Below is Knuckleball Kratz pitching for the Yankees on September 20, 2020.

EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.

 

Yankees fan favorite retires as a player but could return as a coach for the Bombers

New York Yankees, Erik Kratz

The New York Yankees will be losing a fan favorite player for 2021 and beyond. Catcher Erik Kratz elected to opt-out of playing in the future as a player, but very well could return as a coach.

“My next season will not be as a player, that’s for sure,” he said. “I am deciding not to play.”

Formally a 29th round pick by the Blue Jays in 2002, Kratz has enjoyed a lengthy career and is currently 40 years old. He made his major league debut with the Pirates back in 2010, making his way around the league and ending up with the Yankees in 2020.

Across 30 plate appearances, he slashed .321/.367/.393. His MLB career hasn’t been as productive but he’s always been a fantastic teammate and veteran leader for some of the younger guys on the roster.

Kratz ended up being a significant influence on young pitcher Deivi Garcia, who considers him his “padre.” After Garcia’s first game as a Yankee, Kratz broke down in tears with how proud he was.

The New York Yankees need to find a way to keep Kratz around:

Erik is one of the most caring players you will find, especially when it comes to younger athletes who are rising through the system. Not only would he be a phenomenal coach to add, simply because he cares so much, but he also has the baseball knowledge to help develop players over the long term.

Interestingly, Kratz understands that he’s been an up-and-down player his entire career and while stats are important, he’s found gratification in making connections with players in the minor leagues and watching them develop.

“It’s hard to explain,” Kratz said, via MLB.com. “Being a up-and-down type of player my entire career … personally, you want to have good stats, you want to have everything defensively, offensively all that stuff. Ultimately for me, the things I’ve found satisfaction and incredible gratification in is being able to make connections with players — in the Minor Leagues, in the big leagues, pitchers, position players, whatever it is — and hopefully go on to see them have success.

Even manager Aaron Boone sees how special of a person Erik is and the value he brings to the locker room.

“He’s beloved in that room by everyone, and it’s because of the joy he kind of lives his life with that’s infectious. The fact that you can’t help but notice how much he cares about other people. And at the age of 40, he’s still capable of going out there between the lines and impacting our club. We’ve been lucky to have him.”

By the reviews, Kratz gets from players and coaches alike, keeping him around the organization can only be a positive thing.

New York Yankees News/Rumors: The inconceivable loss of LeMahieu, Charlie Morton, Marcus Semien, and Erik Kratz

New York Yankees, DJ LeMahieu

It seems like the New York Yankees haven’t won a World Series in decades; that is almost true; the last won the big prize in 2009 under the tutelage of Joe Girardi. It also seems like fans haven’t been able to sit in a ballpark and watch their favorite player in forever, but it’s only been one year. It also seems like the Yankees have enjoyed the play of DJ LeMahieu for years. It’s just been two years when the Yankees acquired him from the Colorado Rockies. DJ signed a two year $24 million contract to play at Yankee Stadium.  But as of last Sunday, that is over, and as inconceivable as it may seem, DJ may play at Yankee Stadium next year; it could be in a different team’s uniform. Yes, the Yankees could lose DJ LeMahieu.

The New York Yankees certainly want to keep their MVP and batting title winner. He has been the best and most consistent player while he has been in a Yankee uniform. The Yankees haven’t gotten to the World Series while DJ has been a Yankee, but they wouldn’t have even gotten to the postseason if it wasn’t for DJ’s stellar play.

The Yankees recognize LeMahieu’s value to the team and showed him that when he was given a qualifying offer of $18.9 million to stay with the Yankees, while not offering the same offer to the many other Yankee free agents. DJ has until next Wednesday to inform the Yankees whether he will accept the offer or reject it. John Hayman of MLB.com says he plans to reject it. That means DJ can see what’s out there for him. The Yankees can also negotiate with him. LeMahieu will be looking for a big payday, which is understandable.

Being the best player in MLB for the last two years, he will most likely look to have his pay nearly doubled.  However, at age 32, he might take less money for stability to carry him up to his retirement. DJ will have to see how much interest there is in him, in year when all MLB teams are cash strapped. The general feeling is that the Yankees may offer him as much as $20 million a year and possibly for a 4-5 year span that would take him into his 37th year. If DJ wants more than that the Yankees could let him walk, as they have other fish to fry. The Yankees desperately need to fix their pitching rotation and bullpen.

The Yankees might target Charlie Morton or Marcus Semiem

The Yankees realize they have a problem, and that problem is pitching. However, after a season that saw the Yankees lose nearly $700 million from no fans in the stands and associated revenue losses, security, Yankee Stadium upkeep, and front office and player payrolls, they are cash short. After suffering those loses, and wanting to stay below baseball’s luxury tax threshold it is very doubtful they will go after the best free agent pitcher Trevor Bauer.  Instead they will look for a solid mid-rotation pitcher. They will get some relief in the new season with the return of Luis Severino and the likely return of Domingo German, who was their best pitching in 2019.

Charlie Morton who is 37 years old could be a short gap choice for the Yankees. He would come to the Yankees at half the price of going after Bauer. Because of his age he may look for a short contract of a year or two, which could be attractive to the Yankees. Morton is a solid pitcher that showed his worth this year for the Tampa Bay Rays. He also pitched successfully for the Houston Astros against the Yankees. What may make Morton attractive to the Yankees is that he is a postseason veteran. Since 2013 in the postseason, Morton is 9-4 with an ERA of 3.38. Many believe that Morton would be good fit for the Yankees.

Marcus Semiem has been projected to land with the New York Yankees by MLBtraderumors.com. That of course is no guarantee that he will sign with the Yankees. Semien is a more than qualified shortstop that the Yankees might be interested in.  Semiem is not the greatest hitter in the world, but is an excellent defender at short. Last season he hit  .227 with 7 home runs, but in 2019 he hit .285. Picking up Semien would also mean the Yankees would have the option of moving Gleyber Torres back to his normal position at second base. Semiem would also be a economical signing that would be at a fraction of the cost of Francisco Lindor.

The Yankees 40 year old catcher Erik Kratz to has retired from baseball

The New York Yankees fans may have thought that that old guy Erik Kratz burst onto the scene when he caught for the Major League debut of the pitching pospect sensation Deivi Garcia, but the fact is that he has been around for awhile. In fact he has been a good catcher for the last eleven years. He was with the Yankees during the 2017 season and caught in 16 games for the Yankees this year. He is responsible for the Yankee quote of the year. Upon leaving the dugout to catch Garcias dubut game, he could be heard saying “I’m going out to catch my son.” Kratz was 40 and Garcia 21.

Last night Kratz announced his retirement from baseball after for playing for nine teams in eleven years. Kratz was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays all the way back in 2002, but he didn’t make a major league debut until he was 30 years old in 2010 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He went on to play for the Philadelphia Phillies, Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros, New Yankees, Milwaukee Brewers, San Francisco Giants and Tampa Bay Rays.

Kratz. although not saying he was retiring said that as a free agent he wanted to spend more time with his wife and three children. To prove the finality of his exit from baseball, he admitted he promised his daughter he would buy her a puppy when he ended his career. The family now has a puppy and that’s that.

EmpireSportsMedia.com’s William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.

 

 

New York Yankees announce 2020 ALDS roster

New York Yankees, Michael King

The New York Yankees have announced their 28-man roster for the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays. With the exception of just one switch, the roster will remain the same as the Wild Card Series.

The team added Michael King in exchange for Erik Kratz. For the Wild Card Series, the Yankees carried three catchers and one less pitcher since the series would only go two or three games. Now that it’s the divisional series, the series is five games long, and all in consecutive days.

Unlike other years, there will be no breaks between games two and three, and between games four and five. Those off-days would be used for travel, but since the series is in San Diego in a bubble, there’s no travel and need for those days. Game five if needed will be played on Friday.

Because of all the games being played in a row, there’s even more of a need for pitchers. Traditionally, teams can get away with throwing just their high-leverage pitchers. But this year, the depth of teams’ pitching will be tested to the max. Come the ALCS, all seven games of that series will be played in a row. We won’t see any off-days in a series until the World Series with the traditional format for off-days.

By adding King, it gives the Yankees long-relief depth. It’s also not impossible that he starts a game, as we only know of Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka starting games.

The 2020 postseason is certainly an interesting one, but it’s as exciting as ever. Game one between the Yankees and Rays starts at 8pm ET on TBS.

New York Yankees news: Zack Britton injury update, Deivi Garcia development

New York Yankees, Zack Britton

Prior to Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Aaron Boone and the New York Yankees announced a few pieces of significant news.

The team reinstated Zack Britton and Kyle Higashioka from the IL. Britton went on the IL after suffering a hamstring strain on August 19th, while Higashioka has been out for nearly a month with an oblique strain.

To make room for Britton and Higashioka, the team DFA’d infielder Jordy Mercer and optioned pitcher Miguel Yajure. Yajure made his MLB debut on Monday, and impressed with three scoreless innings.

Right now, the Yankees are carrying three catchers as they kept Erik Kratz. Right now, the team is expecting Deivi Garcia to make another start on Friday with Kratz behind the dish.

The two worked extremely well together in Garcia’s debut on Sunday, and the two have experience working together in AAA. Garcia threw six innings on Sunday without allowing an earned run, striking out six. He’s not currently on the roster but will be added by Friday.

The 40-year-old Kratz has been big for the Yankees this year, and been one of the guys stepping up big time. He’s bat .300 and called some great games, and his start with Garcia was no exception. Plus, he’s been a clubhouse presence along with Brett Gardner, filling the shoes of CC Sabathia in a way.

If Kratz and Garcia continue to have success, then the both of them could be around for the final month of the season. Kratz is looking to keep reps away from Higashioka, while Garcia is trying to keep the ball out of the hands of guys like JA Happ and fellow rookie Michael King.

All eyes are on Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez heading into Sunday

New York Yankees, Gary Sanchez

The New York Yankees finally broke their seven game losing streak yesterday in a 2-1 victory over the New York Mets. The Yankees rode a very solid start from J.A. Happ and a wild pitch from Mets reliever Dellin Betances to victory.

One player who didn’t see the field yesterday was the Yankees catcher, Gary Sanchez. Erik Kratz got the start and worked extremely well with Happ. To me, yesterday wasn’t about just giving Sanchez the day off, it was about the Yankees confidence in their starting catcher.

The reason I say that is the ninth inning. The Yankees hadn’t won in seven games. They had runners on first and third in the ninth inning with the catcher spot coming up. Instead of going to Sanchez in that spot, the Yankees decided to stick with Kratz.

Abysmal 2020 for the Yankees catcher

If that doesn’t tell you about the Yankees faith in Sanchez at this point, I don’t know what will. Sanchez has been horrendous in 2020. In 25 games this year, Sanchez is batting .130 with an OBP of .256. He’s hit 5 home runs and has driven in 10 runs.

The Yankees worked with Sanchez on a new defensive style where he now catches with one knee on the ground. The idea was to help Sanchez frame pitches. Instead, there really hasn’t been a difference made, and his defense has drastically regressed this year.

He’s already at more than half of the amount of passed balls he had last year in just 1/3 of the games. Over the course of 162 games, Sanchez is on pace for 26 passed balls. Between that and his terrible hitting, it’s clear to see why he has a negative WAR.

Sanchez has to be one of the more frustrating players for the Yankees. We’ve seen the potential he has, but it just hasn’t been there over the past few seasons. Sure, he was an all-star last year, but over the last three seasons where he’s played over 200 games, Sanchez isn’t even batting .200.

The power is obviously there when he connects, but those shots are getting fewer and further between. You seriously have to ask yourself how long is his leash. Today, the Yankees have a double header against the Mets. You have to believe that all eyes will be on Gary Sanchez to see if he can be at all productive on the field and at the plate.

New York Mets: Betances Loses the Zone in 2-1 Walk-Off Loss

The New York Mets bullpen had put together a terrific scoreless innings streak up until the moment Dellin Betances entered the game. His combination of walks and wildness gifted the New York Yankees a much-needed victory. Betances flung the ball over Wilson Ramos‘s head, with Erik Kratz attempting to bunt, which caused the Mets to lose 2-1.

Not only does Betances have issues locating his fastball, but it does not have his typical velocity either. 92-93 is nowhere near where he was during the prime of his career. Betances allowed a walk to Clint Frazier and a hit and run single to Jordy Mercer to set up the game-ending wild pitch. After the game, he said he felt like he had nothing on the mound, pitching for a second straight day.

Failed Comeback

The Mets could not muster any offense against Yankees starter J.A. Happ. Over 7.1 innings, all Happ allowed was three hits with only 90 pitches. It was a big surprise when Yankees manager Aaron Boone removed him and turned to Adam Ottavino. Wilson Ramos immediately tagged Ottavino for a solo home run, tying the game at one. It looked like another comeback was in the works for a third straight game, but they could not add on to the homer.

Outside of Betances, the Mets pitching kept them a home run away throughout the game. After Robert Gsellman allowed a first-inning home run to Luke Voit, he was solid after that. Gsellman threw four innings, only allowing one run on four hits while striking out four.

Steven Matz followed him out of the bullpen and threw a 1-2-3 fifth inning with two strikeouts. The expectation was for Matz to throw multiple innings, resting an overworked Mets bullpen. He ended up leaving the game after the one inning with an apparent injury. For the next three innings, the bullpen worked in an out of trouble before the Betances collapse.

The Mets play a doubleheader on Sunday starting at 1:05 p.m. ET with Rick Porcello needing to give the Mets distance. Aaron Boone has not announced the Yankees starter as of 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The New York Yankees place a catcher on the IL

New York Yankees, Kyle Higashioka

Prior to Saturday’s doubleheader, the New York Yankees announced that backup catcher Kyle Higashioka would be headed to the IL. He suffered a right oblique strain on August 6th.

To replace Higashioka, the team signed Erik Kratz to the Major League roster and activated him. The 40-year-old made 21 Major League appearances in 2019, and is expected to play sometime on Saturday. With the doubleheader, Kratz and Gary Sanchez will each play one game.

Maybe Kratz will be the spark that the team needs behind the plate. Sanchez and Higashioka are off to rough starts, both having trouble collecting hits. Higashioka is 2-for-9, but Sanchez looks completely lost. Gary is just 3-for-33 with one home run and three runs batted in. Of 30 times retired, 19 are in the form of the strikeout.

This is the third year in a row now that Sanchez has struggled to get hits. Nothing before has been as bad as this season, but something needs to change. Maybe Kratz can come in and have a few good games and put a little pressure on Sanchez. The team has given him a lot of chances, and if he doesn’t improve soon, the team could start shopping him.

The Yankees drafted a catcher in the first round of the 2020 draft out of Arizona, and he could be big league ready in a few years. Maybe it will be him, Austin Wells, as the catcher of the future.

But in the meantime, Kratz joining the team might not be the worst thing to happen. It sucks that he’s coming up because of an injury to someone else, but hopefully he will produce and make his presence felt.

New York Yankees 2020 Season Preview: Kyle Higashioka

New York Yankees, Kyle Higashioka

After serving as the “third catcher” behind Austin Romine for the past three years, Kyle Higashioka is going to have the chance to prove himself to the New York Yankees in 2020. With Romine now playing in Detroit, the back-up catcher role is all Higgy’s.

Higashioka has never played more than 29 major league games in one season but has spent over a year on the major league roster. He would come up when the roster expanded in September or when Gary Sanchez hit the IL, but that was about it.

Over his 146 career at-bats, he has a career .164 average. That’s not great, but he hit .214 in 2019, and each year has been better. He hit .278 and mashed 20 home runs in AAA in 2019.

Higashioka calls good games, and his defense and arm are developing. Overall, his playstyle is similar to Gary Sanchez, with just a bit better defense.

2020 Expectations:

As said before, Higashioka is expected to be the back-up catcher at the major league level in 2020. Now, the team has Erik Kratz and Chris Ianetta in the organization, but both are on minor league deals. Both will be in spring training but are not expected to break camp with the team.

But, I think it’s likely that we will see Ianetta eventually. If Sanchez lands on the IL (or Higashioka), they will need another catcher. I have a hard time seeing it be Kratz because of his age and skill level decreasing, so it would probably be Ianetta. The only way we see Ianetta or Kratz without an injury is if Higashioka is playing bad.

The Yankees need Higashioka to continue to call good games and develop the rest of his game. The potential is there, and he’s a little better every year. Hopefully, 2020 is the year he breaks out and shows the team what he’s made of.

Should the Yankees be concerned about the catcher position this spring?

New York Yankees, Kyle Higashioka

The New York Yankees have addressed the catcher this offseason by means of quantity and not quality. Having brought in two additional catchers to compete with Kyle Higashioka, the consensus is that manager Aaron Boone and Co. aren’t sold on the reserve option backing up Gary Sanchez.

The inevitable truth is that Sanchez’s injury history has forced the Yankees into a hole in the past, luckily, they’ve had Austin Romine to hold down the fort, but he was in search of a starting role this offseason and found an opportunity with the Detroit Tigers.

Who are the Yankees betting on to backup Sanchez?

The 40-man roster currently holds two catchers who don’t have minor league options, and while their veteran presence offers value for the A-ball level pitchers, they cannot be trusted to excel in the majors. Right now, Higashioka is the golden goose, but his offensive production in 2019 doesn’t justify any optimism in his potential moving forward.

Having hit .214 last season over 18 games, it’s hard to believe the Yankees are investing this much faith in the 29-year old, but his small sample size suggests that he might have lacked the reps to prove his worth. Not bringing in a better option leads us to believe Boone is confident he can hold down the job being Sanchez while Erik Kratz and Chris Iannetta battle for a roster spot in the minors.

While Kratz and Iannetta are older players, they’re plush with experience and knowledge. In fact, they might be able to help Higashioka develop to a degree. Iannetta is an excellent source of wisdom for the younger players, as he’s played for the Mariners, Angels, Rockies, and Diamondback during his career, earning three playoff appearances. His 1,122 regular-season games should give Boone the peace of mind that he has an experienced catcher at his disposal, especially defensively.

Kratz’s 61 wRC+ suggests that his offense is quite weak, but his defensive efficiency is reliable, earning 20 defensive runs saved during his career.

The two options are both defensively stout, but they don’t offer much in the offensive category. The Yankees will be doing everything they can to mitigate injuries to Sanchez, but he’s been unable to avoid such ailments the past few seasons.