New York signed the veteran backstop to a minor-league deal on Friday, confirming plans to use Kyle Higashioka in a backup role behind Gary Sanchez. Is Kratz the answer to the catching-depth questions the Yankees have been fielding all offseason?
It's been five days since Gerrit Cole's introductory press conference -- officially welcoming the highest-paid starting pitcher in baseball history to the Bronx. What could possibly overshadow such a memorable and monumental signing?
Enter Erik Kratz.
Well, not exactly... Next to nothing can top the magnitude of putting Cole in every Yankee fan's stockings this holiday season. Seriously though, for a 39-year-old signing a minor-league contract, an announcement that didn't make many headlines, this offseason addition has more meaning than it may initially seem.
Kratz, entering his 11th season in baseball, agreed to a minor-league deal with the Yankees on Friday morning. He's been in pinstripes before, playing for the Bombers in 2017, although he only appeared in four games with the big-league club. Most recently, Kratz finished off the 2019 season with the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
After making his debut in 2010, the journeyman has put on nine different uniforms, playing a total of 316 major-league games. In his career, Kratz is a .205 hitter with 31 home runs.
Kratz presently slots in as the Yankees' third-string backstop. Gary Sanchez is currently the undisputed choice to start at catcher while Kyle Higashioka is poised to take on a larger workload in 2020 as the backup -- courtesy of the departure of Austin Romine, who signed a one-year deal with Detroit this month, along with the front office's blessing.
With Sanchez's injury history -- as he spent two stints on the injured list in 2019 after an injury-plagued campaign the year prior -- it's entirely possible that Kratz will be needed in 2020. The hope is that Sanchez stays healthy, and that Higashioka effectively supports by easing his workload throughout the season, but there's no guarantee when it comes to health.
If signing Kratz as the third option isn't enough proof as it is, remember that Martin Maldonado -- a backstop with significant experience working with New York's new ace Gerrit Cole -- recently re-signed with the Astros. New York was rumored to have interest in Maldonado as an alternative to Higashioka.
It didn't come to fruition, but it's worth noting that Cole and Maldonado were quite successful as a battery working together in Houston. That familiarity would have certainly benefitted Cole as he adjusts to the new clubhouse, teammates and especially a new group of catchers.
Cole even name dropped his former teammate while being introduced last week. If you watch the press conference back, skip ahead to the very end at 30 minutes when Cole recalled playing for the Astros at Yankee Stadium in the ALCS.
The right-hander and Kratz were both members of the Pirates in 2016 -- the backstop played in 17 games behind the plate in Pittsburgh. Nonetheless, they were never on the field at the same time.
Kratz may not have prior experience working with Cole, and his career numbers are nothing to write home about, but he still brings value to this Yankee roster.
As Higashioka prepares to spend 2020 in the Bronx rather than SWB, the Yanks needed an experienced catcher to hold it down in Triple-A. Kratz is a familiar face, with plenty of minor-league experience and he's proven he can still produce and contribute, even as he approaches 40.
Over 46 games in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, Kratz slashed a formidable .299/.375/.500. He played behind the dish in 37 of those contests.
Further, he's consistently been a solid defensive catcher over his decade in the Majors. To go along with his framing and pitch-blocking numbers, his career caught-stealing percentage is 32 (59-for-182). Interestingly enough, Sanchez has thrown out an identical amount of runners (59-for-179), good enough for 33 percent. Higashioka has caught just 17 percent of base runners in his career (6-for-35).
Finally, if Kratz happens to make it to the big leagues in 2020 -- for a team with lofty postseason expectations -- his experience in October has him ready for any situation in pinstripes.
With the Brewers in 2018, Kratz played in both the NLDS and NLCS -- in the divisional round, he hit .625 with five base knocks in eight at bats. In Game 4 of the Championship Series against the Dodgers, he was right in the thick of it when benches cleared after Manny Machado kicked Jesus Aguilar while passing the first base bag.
If Sanchez happens to get hurt and the Yankees are wary of Higashioka suiting up to catch down the stretch, Kratz could be an option behind the dish. His defense might present skipper Aaron Boone with an opportunity to have Sanchez play DH, resting his legs, while Kratz squats behind the dish. He's played alongside several Yankees already in SWB, is acquainted with the organization and understands his role.
Who knows, maybe he'll impress in Spring Training and earn a roster spot sooner than anticipated. Either way, in all likelihood we won't be seeing another catcher agreeing to a deal with the Yankees any time soon. The catching slots in the Bronx for 2020 are full.
To keep up with all of Yankee Maven's coverage, click the "follow" button at the top righthand corner of this page. For more from Max Goodman, follow him on Twitter @MaxTGoodman