The Yankees added another twilight veteran by signing catcher Robinson Chirinos to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.
Chirinos, who turns 37 this season, has in all likelihood had his best seasons as a Major Leaguer already. From 2014-2019, Chrinos accumulated 6.9 WAR. His best of those six seasons came in 2019 when he slashed .238/.347/.443 with a .336 wOBA and a 114 wRC+. He also played in 114 games and had a tangible impact for the Astros in their playoff run in 2019.
Chirnos had a pretty terrible 2020 campaign, split between the Mets and Rangers, posting a 32 wRC+ and a .216 wOBA in 82 Plate Appearances. As far as his role on the Yankees, which could be nonexistent, he does have an opportunity to fill the Erik Kratz hole. As of right now the Yankees have Kyle Higashioka, who has shown promise throughout his years with the Yankees, and Gary Sanchez.
Sanchez, as we know, has not won the hearts of the Yankees’ front office lately and is (by all optics) on at least somewhat thin ice. Also, injuries seem to plague the Yankees every season ,so Chrinos may get some opportunity simply by default.
Perhaps the most worthy note of this signing is Chirinos’ relationship with Gerrit Cole in 2019. In 69 innings with Chirinos behind the plate, Cole posted a 1.57 ERA with 114 strikeouts and 11 walks. This is interesting because Cole appears to value a good relationship with his catchers (more so than others). For instance, we heard all throughout the beginning of the season in 2020 about Cole’s infatuation with Sanchez.
Cole has actually, publicly at least, had nothing but nice things to say about Sanchez. Just last season he said, Courtesy of YES Network, that Sanchez “works his butt off back there” and that his “intent to try and get better is special.” But, we did not see what appeared to be a budding bromance blossom come postseason time.
Higashioka caught all four of Cole’s starts in September and Cole allowed just three earned runs and recorded 34 strikeouts in 27 innings pitched in that span. That carried into the postseason, where Higashioka was behind the plate for each of his three solid playoff starts.
What seemed to be the beginning of a good relationship between Cole and Sanchez ended with Cole recording a 3.91 ERA in 8 starts. So, when Cole recorded just a 1.00 ERA in his final four regular season starts with Higashioka behind the plate, it became clear that Cole had (whether problematic or not) a better synergy with Higashioka.
In classic Gerrit Cole fashion, he talked up Higashioka just like he did Sanchez. He said, courtesy of Bryan Hoch at MLB.com, ” Kyle’s easy to communicate with,” while adding, “he’s a really creative thinker, a good pitch framer, a good pitch caller. We’ve worked out well together.” I am sensing a theme here.
Cole, and this is a good thing, appears to be a very intense professional athlete. So, he will do whatever it takes to get the best out his teammates, especially his catchers. What we’ve learned now is that does not mean undeterred commitment, they are simply just words of encouragement.
In all likelihood, he said good things about Sanchez because he knows very well that he needs positive encouragement. Sanchez definitely works hard, but working hard and playing well are two different things, especially to Cole.
Cole and Higashioka also have a prior relationship before teaming up on the Yankees. Cole has mentioned their shared Southern California heritage. The two also played together as teenagers on the Angels scout team.
Now, how does this all relate to Robinson Chrinos? Well, I think it’s fairly obvious. Whether or not Cole wants this, it’s a good idea to find what works best for your $300 million man. Whether it be by happenstance or is an actual phenomenon, he appears to work best with certain catchers. Chirinos is one of those catchers, and it’s not a coincidence that the Yankees brought him into the organization.