The Chicago Cubs have signed a player! It happened! Pop the champagne! And it looks like they have their back-up catcher. Well, they at least have a guy who can probably be that guy, though he might have some periodic competition from minor leaguers P.J. Higgins and Taylor Gushue.
For now, though, the on-paper back-up catcher is Austin Romine:
The Cubs and C Austin Romine have agreed to a one-year deal, per source. The deal is pending physical.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) January 22, 2021
The particulars figure to be out soon, but Romine got one year and $4 million last year from the Tigers as one of the better back-up catchers on the market, and although that’s going to be waaaay down this year, it’s probably still a big league deal.
UPDATE: Yup, and it’s more than half a Descalso! I already lost the under:
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 22, 2021
Romine, 32, was a long-time back-up with the New York Yankees before hitting up the Tigers last year:
As you can see, Romine finally got a real shot to be a regular back-up in 2016, and while the defense came along quickly, the bat didn’t become useful until his late-20s (sometimes you see that with catchers, especially when they’re getting only sporadic starts). But when it did, Romine became a really valuable back-up for the Yankees in 2018 and 2019, pairing very good defense with a bat that was better than league average for a catcher. Not good, mind you, but better than most back-up catchers.
Obviously things fell off the cliff there in Detroit in 2020. Every part of his game tanked, which may have been a short-season fluke, may have been related to the transition in organizations for the first time in his career, or maybe have been actual decline. You wouldn’t necessarily expect that in a catcher’s age 31 season, but it does happen. The Cubs must believe it was more along the lines of a fluke. Possible explanation? Romine’s numbers were right there with his 2018 and 2019 offerings through the end of August, when he sat with a knee issue. When he came back, his numbers were atrocious in September. So really, it was one bad month.
If Romine bounces back, you can expect him to be a solid glove, and an acceptable back-up-catcher-type bat, who hits lefties a little better than righties. It’s about an unsexy as a back-up catcher signing can get, but that’s kind of the size of it when you’re looking at back-up catchers. Romine probably doesn’t come close to replacing Victor Caratini’s total value (to say nothing of upside), but he’s fine. This is a fine signing.
Of note here: if the Cubs were to trade Willson Contreras, Romine does not profile as a guy you’d be like, “Ah, well, I guess Romine will be an acceptable starter.” He’s not THAT caliber of back-up.