The New York Yankees signed Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract back in December. He’ll be the starter, but the Yankees have four other catchers on the 40-man roster heading into Spring Training. Who will be McCann’s backup?
JR Murphy and Gary Sanchez are both highly-touted catching prospects. Murphy, 22, has spent five seasons in the Yankees farm system, compiling a .266/.331/.407 line. Sanchez, 21, is currently ranked by Baseball America as the top prospect in the Yankees system. Many have called him the Yankees’ “catcher of the future.” The McCann signing was a bit perplexing because of Sanchez’s colossal upside, but the fact is he is still just a smidge too young to be an everyday guy.
The same goes for Murphy. The 2014 season will likely start with Murphy behind the plate in Triple-A and Sanchez posting up in Double-A.
That leaves Francisco Cervelli, 27, and Austin Romine, 25, to duke it out for the right to backup McCann on the Opening Day roster.
Cervelli was slated as the starter last season after the departure of Russell Martin, but injury and a Biogenesis suspension kept him out for all but 17 games. In six seasons with the Yankees, Cervelli has played in just 201 Major League games. Over that time, he’s batted .271/.343/.367. As a prospect, Cervelli’s defense was a selling point, but it failed to meet expectations over the years. Prior to 2013, however, improving defense displayed at Spring Training was part of the reason he won the starting job.
Romine appeared in 60 games for the Yankees last season, posting a disappointing .207/.255/.296 line over that small sample size. He is known to currently be a better defensive catcher than Cervelli, an attribute that Yankees manager Joe Girardi has deemed extremely important to the organization.
Personally, I’d rather see the younger, more agile, didn’t-accept-a-PED-suspension Romine backing up McCann, but a possible sticking point could be that Cervelli is out of minor league options. This means that by sending him down at any point, the Yankees would expose him to waivers.
The Yankees could have non-tendered Cervelli, making him a free agent. The likely reason that they chose to forgo this option is that they want to give him an opportunity like they did last year, albeit this time as a backup. They might want to give him one more chance to prove himself.
Then again, let’s be honest. Neither Cervelli nor Romine stands to be with the Yankees long-term. With McCann locked up for five years and an outstanding young prospect waiting in the wings, the Yankees just need someone to hold things over until younger guys are ripe.