Since trading Victor Caratini to the San Diego Padres along with Yu Darvish, the Chicago Cubs have lacked a legitimate big league catcher on the 40-man roster outside of Willson Contreras.
Thankfully, that’s no longer the case after the Cubs signed 32-year-old backstop Austin Romine to a one-year, $1.5 million deal on Friday. This is hardly the type of earth-shattering move that steals headlines, but it checks a necessary box as the offseason nears its end.
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Prior to 2020, Romine had spent his entire career in the Yankees organization. In his final year in the Bronx, the former second-round pick turned in the best offensive season of his career, slashing .281/.310/.439 in 72 contests. He paired that performance with his typical solid work behind the dish and turned it into a one-year, $4.1 million deal with the Detroit Tigers.
In the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, his offensive numbers leveled out to a .238/.259/.323 line – much more in line with his career marks. Look, the guy isn’t Contreras with the stick. Hell, he’s not even Caratini – not even close. But he’s always been well-regarded for his pitch framing and is perfectly capable of spelling the Cubs’ two-time All-Star every few days, as needed.
It’s sad to say but the Romine deal represents the team’s biggest financial commitment of the winter to-date at, like I said, a whopping $1.5 million. That’s what it’s come to. We’re just happy to cross ‘backup catcher’ off the to-do list. After all, we’re mere weeks from the Cubs reporting to camp and they have a whole lot of work to do before then.
Austin Romine cannot be the everyday guy for the Cubs
Now, where this could really turn south is if Jed Hoyer actually winds up trading Contreras. You cannot simply say, “OK, well, Romine is the guy now.” No. He’s never caught more than 80 games in a single season. If the Cubs move Contreras, they have to go out and add another catcher to pair with Romine to get through the season.
And before you even suggest it – no, that ‘other’ catcher cannot and will not be Miguel Amaya. His stellar performance in winter ball notwithstanding, he needs to keep developing. As talented as he is and as good as we all feel about his future, Chicago stands to gain absolutely nothing by rushing his timeline.
Remember. The Cubs aren’t trying to compete in 2021. They just aren’t. They’ve cashed it in and are punting – all so Tom Ricketts can slash payroll in hopes of getting the organization’s finances back on sound footing. Of course, this will be pitched to fans as ‘establishing our framework for the future’ or something along those lines.
The simple truth is this. Austin Romine is the Cubs’ most prominent move of the offseason in late January, even with a roster with several glaring deficiencies. That’s where we’re at right now.