Yankees Continue to Address Catching Depth, Sign Chris Iannetta to Minor-League Deal

Max Goodman

New York agreed to terms with veteran backstop Chris Iannetta on Thursday. The minor-league deal includes an invite to Spring Training. 

Sweeney Murti of WFAN first reported the Yankees were close to finalizing a contract with Iannetta, who will enter his 15th big-league season in 2020. Jon Heyman of MLB Network confirmed Murti's initial report. 

Iannetta, who turns 37 in April, spent the first six years of his career with the Rockies, before returning to Colorado for the past two seasons. He's a career .230/.345/.406 hitter with 141 home runs and a .751 OPS over 14 years in the Majors. In addition to the Rockies, Iannetta spent four seasons -- from 2012-2015 -- with the Angels.

In 2019, Iannetta struggled early on, posting a .222 average and a -0.4 WAR over 52 games. He was designated for assignment in August.

This deal comes two weeks after New York agreed to terms with Erik Kratz, another catcher with over 10 years of big-league experience. A combination of Kratz and Iannetta will provide a veteran presence, and even some competition, for Kyle Higashioka, who is poised to take on a larger role as the backup to Gary Sanchez in 2020. 

With Sanchez's injury history, it's no surprise the club chose to add additional backstops this offseason. And yet, New York let Austin Romine walk in free agency. Romine, who spent eight seasons as the Yankees' backup catcher, signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Tigers for just north of $4 million. 

Now, assuming Higashioka solidifies his status in the spring as the backup, New York's third-string catcher will be either Kratz or Iannetta (in their age 40 and 37 seasons respectively).

Behind the dish, Iannetta has caught 24 percent of runners attempting to steal in his career (195 CS out of 802 attempts). That number has dipped significantly in recent years, however, as Iannetta posted a 17 percent caught stealing rate in 2019.

In his most recent season with more than 100 games played -- 2018 -- the Rhode Island native showcased above average pitch framing. According to Statcast, Iannetta was tied for the eighth-best among big-league backstops with seven 'runs added strikes' (converting strikes to runs saved on a .125 run/strike basis). To put that complex metric into perspective, Iannetta's framing in 2018 was better than Kratz, Sanchez, Romine and both Gold Glove Award winners from that season (Salvador Perez and Yadier Molina). In 2019, Iannetta's 'runs added strikes' (-2) was two runs better than Sanchez (-4).

His pop time in 2018 was an average of 2.04 seconds -- good for 60th among all backstops. The league average sits at approximately 2.01 seconds. 

Pitchers and catchers report to the Yankees' Spring Training facility in just over one month (on Feburary 12). All eyes will be on New York's core of catchers and how they gel with new ace Gerrit Cole and a talented pitching staff. 

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