The Detroit Tigers brought in veteran catcher Austin Romine this offseason, not only to upgrade the catcher position but also to provide veteran leadership.
The Detroit Tigers struggled offensively at several positions in 2019, one of them being catcher. The Tigers ranked dead last in the majors last season in OPS by catchers at just .525, while John Hicks led the team with just 60 appearances behind the plate. Even though the Tigers are rebuilding and weren’t going to go after many big names in free agency, they had to do something to address the catcher position for 2020.
To that end, the team signed Austin Romine back in December. Romine, 31, should not be confused with his older brother, former Tiger Andrew Romine. Austin Romine should provide at least a minor upgrade at the plate, but perhaps, more importantly, he is in a great position to provide some veteran leadership to this young team.
Romine has spent several seasons with the New York Yankees, mainly serving as a backup, most recently to Gary Sanchez. Although, with Sanchez missing some time due to injuries last season, Romine got into 72 games in 2019, getting 240 plate appearances and logging 563 1/3 innings behind the plate.
Though he’d been with the Yankees since 2011, Romine hadn’t been much of an offensive threat before 2018. That year, he set career highs in home runs (10) and RBIs (42) in just 77 games while posting a respectable .713 OPS. Last year, he raised his OPS to .748, setting career highs in AVG, OBP, and SLG.
Behind the plate, Romine has posted a combined defensive WAR of 1.4 over the past two seasons. He’s gotten a lot better at throwing out potential base stealers, catching 30% in 2019, which is above league average. Meanwhile, he’s been above average at blocking pitches in the dirt. Romine should be able to help the Tigers’ rotation this season.
So while Romine isn’t a star, he figures to be an upgrade for the Tigers and right now projects to be their starting catcher. This will be a bit of a transition for him, as at 31 years old, he’s moving from a backup to a starter role. How will he handle it? Will he be able to maintain his improved offensive pace getting the bulk of the playing time over the course of a full season? We’ll be curious to find out.
In addition to all this, Romine is in a great position to serve as a mentor, both to the young pitchers and to the younger catchers Grayson Greiner and Jake Rogers. Much like the signings of C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop, Romine should add some veteran stability as the Tigers look to take a step forward in 2020.
The Austin Romine signing didn’t get the Detroit Tigers any big headlines, but it was one of those incremental moves that should make the team better overall in 2020. Hopefully he’ll be able to help the team in more ways than one.