It was never intended for Chris Stewart to be the Yankees’ regular catcher. Entering the season, he was to split duties with Francisco Cervelli. Up until injury, it looked like Cervelli was going to take a choke hold on the primary catching duties based on his early performance. In the long run, neither of the two would have been good options, but Cervelli was certainly more plausible. With Stewart thrust into a full-time role for the first time in his major league career, he simply appears worn out. Not that he was performing exceptionally well early on, but his statistical fall off of late is indicative of his workload. With the season up in flames, it’s time for the Yankees to take inventory of some internal options at the position. There’s no way they want to go into 2014 with Cervelli and Stewart all over again.
The good news is the wish to see another option at backstop may have already been granted. Over the last four games, Austin Romine has started three. And why not? He deserves a chance. Stewart has no long-term future with this team, but Romine might, even as a backup. And with the way this year is going, there’s no need to keep trotting Stewart out there. Even if they were winning, the breaking point for the catching position had long past. Stewart is a known commodity at this stage of his career, while there is still a lot to learn about Romine.
Over the last 30 days, Romine and Stewart couldn’t be any further opposites on the offensive spectrum. Albeit a small 33 plate appearance sample, Romine is hitting .393/.485/.643. Meanwhile, Stewart is hitting .154/.200/.192 in 57 plate appearances. I’m not advocating Romine to play because of this sample, but it certainly doesn’t hurt his case. It’s more that Stewart is toast, and that it’s time to assess whether or not Romine can be an option in 2014. Plus, Romine isn’t some non-prospect that the team would be taking a shot in the dark with. After 2011, Baseball America (subscription required) said “His defense still could make him New York’s long-term future catcher, with the offensive upside of a .270 hitter with 10 homers annually.” His stock took a hit after 2012, but regardless, it would behoove the Yankees to see what he’s got.
The front office has made it known that they prefer a defense-first catcher, and Romine fits the bill. Baseball America has ranked him as the organization’s top defensive catcher three seasons running. There were some concerns with his handling of the pitching staff earlier this season when he was Andy Pettitte‘s battery mate against Houston. There was a communication breakdown, which significantly hurt his chances of taking the reigns earlier in the season. Given scouts’ takes on Romine’s ability to manage a game, this was likely just a blip on the radar. It’s difficult to have a seamless transition with new pitchers, especially as a rookie. Going forward, I wouldn’t expect this to be an issue. And again, it would be beneficial to find out how he handles the staff the rest of the way.
Romine will be 25 in November, so for his career, it’s getting to the point of now or never. J.R. Murphy is breathing down his neck, and Gary Sanchez isn’t too far away either with his recent promotion to Double-A. Romine has played well enough of late that he’s earned a chance to prove his merits. There’s nothing for the Yankees to lose here with the season all but down the drain. The best case scenario is that Romine shows he’s worthy of being a starter next year, which would be very helpful toward sitting below the $189M luxury tax threshold. There isn’t really a worst case scenario. If he struggles, the Yankees would virtually be in the same position as they would have if they let Stewart get the bulk of the duty the rest of the way.
Give Romine a shot. There’s no promise he’ll be anything special, or even decent, but we can’t pass judgement on him without him getting some extended time at this level. It will allow the organization a crucial evaluation opportunity, and it will give us something interesting to watch over the next 49 games.
This post was originally written for Pinstriped Bible.
Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as “Austin Romine”) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons