Most teams are content with at least one quality catching option. It's a position where power isn't expected, but certainly welcome if one provides it. Good defense, as well as the ability to work well with pitchers, are pivotal to the positions success.
The Yankees have this in Gary Sanchez, the slugging 26-year-old whose defense has made improvements after disastrous showings in previous seasons. Behind him, both Austin Romine and Kyle Higashioka have proved their worth for different reasons.
But it's likely that only one of them will remain with New York beyond this season. While the assumption is that the organization re-signs Romine, drafted by the team in 2007, the decision may not be as simple.
For one, both backstops are quite similar. Though 'Higgy' has been in the minor leagues for the majority of his career, he's already 29, just a year younger than Romine. Neither have ever been particularly good hitters, either. Romine has hit .241 over the last three seasons, while Higashioka has slashed .198 between 2018-19.
Still, their career averages haven't stopped them from exceeding expectations this season. Through 151 at-bats, Romine is at a clip of .272, easily the highest mark of his career (previous high of .244 in 2017). Higashioka currently sits at a .256 mark, though he's collected five hits and a home run in his last three games.
Regardless of their improved production this season, the Yankees don't need either player to put up above average or even average numbers. In a lineup full of both contact and power hitters, they each serve instead as defensive-minded game callers. Romine in particular has drawn praise over the years for his ability to build chemistry with pitching staffs, while Higashioka has continually displayed excellent defense and a cannon behind the plate.
Considering all of this, it could be said that the eventual choice between the two will be a win-win. Both catchers provide many of the same qualities, but both are in a different set of circumstances.
Romine is a free agent after this season, and he'll be searching for a new deal. Would he try and explore the free agent market? Arguably one of the games top backup catchers after years of service to the Yankees, Romine certainly earned the right to. The 2019-20 free agent class for catchers is less than stellar, with names like Robinson Chirinos and Brian McCann as the headliners. That's not counting Yasmani Grandal, who has an option with the Brewers for 2020. Romine would in no fashion be among the top options, but teams will surely refer to his career with New York as a strength.
The fact that Romine has been with the Yankees since 2007, when he was drafted in the second round of the draft, is significant. He's never complained about the backup role and has taken pride in working with the ever-changing starting rotations. Whether Brett Gardner is brought back or let go, he'd continue to serve as one of the team's primary veterans. This doesn't mean they'll be inclined to keep him, but it certainly is worth noting.
On the other hand, Higashioka could come at a cheaper cost. He's eligible for arbitration in 2022 and doesn't hit free agency until 2025. It would almost be wrong for the Yankees to keep him in the minors, as he'll turn 30 next April, further limiting his chances at the MLB level. As the case with many of the teams talented depth options, he would likely have a prominent role on any other team in the majors.
Will New York go with familiarity in Romine, or will it give Higashioka a vote of confidence as the backup? Those questions won't be answered until the offseason, but they are certain to be important ones when the time comes.