The Yankees signed Robinson Chirinos to a minor league contract yesterday, which raises a question that has nothing to do with Robinson Chirinos, or even Gary Sanchez for that matter:
What is it exactly, that the Yankees don’t like about Kyle Higashioka?
204 plate appearances spread over four seasons in the show doesn’t give us too much of which to go off, but we do know this: According to all metrics, he’s been a plus defender as a major leaguer, his pitch framing ranked in the 70th percentile in MLB last season, and his WAR extrapolates to a good starting catcher over a full season. Comparatively, Chirinos has two good part time seasons on his resume out of ten overall, has been below average defensively over the past four, and came in at the 29th percentile in framing last season.
It’s also important to remember that Higashioka has nothing left to prove on the lower levels – we know the last time he played regularly he obliterated AAA pitching. In the 2019 International League, 135 players had a minimum of 250 PA – Higashioka was 4th in SLG and 16th in wRC+ out of the 135, with a better than league average OBP. It’s rare – very rare – for players to hit that well in AAA and not be able to hit in MLB to some extent.
It’s also worth remembering that while Higashioka was beating up the minor leagues, the Yankees believed Austin Romine was the better option on the major league level. Let’s have some fun with that one – Romine 405 career games, -0.3 career WAR. Higashioka, 16 games in 2020, 0.4 WAR.
Don’t misunderstand: Gary Sanchez is the starting catcher. But there is no question that Higashioka should get part time reps at a minimum, and full time reps if Sanchez’ roller-coaster trends downward again. Higashioka doesn’t belong in the minor leagues and Chirinos won’t go, so the Chirinos signing isn’t about organizational depth. One can only assume that this is a message to Sanchez and Higashioka that they’re both on watch.
Which is odd, because Higashioka has never had an opportunity to really be watched before.
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