Getting a superstar is always exciting; losing a fan favorite player is always rough. These are the emotions we deal with as sports fans.
After a long season ends- even amidst disappointment that another World Series has passed by the Yankees again- the beginning of the offseason brings excitement with it. This excitement is spurred on by intrigue and possibility with players on the free agent market, the speculation of who may come from abroad, and above all else, the development of tantalizing trades across the sport.
Many offseasons have come and gone without the Yankees bringing in the certified star. The player above all else, who solves major problems on the team and amongst the fanbase. The last example of this was the trade that brought Giancarlo Stanton to New York.
This offseason, however, the Yankees have showcased their name again. They have represented the Yankees-of-old and have gone out to get the best player on the trade market.
These are exciting times! These are times to celebrate! This is Christmas coming early and a New Years Eve ball drop all in one! Find your partner and kiss them.
(Just this morning- thanks to the news breaking around 11 PM last night- I broke the news to some of my high school students. One of them exclaimed, "This news is better than kissing a girl!" If a high school boy believes ANYTHING is better than kissing a girl, you know it's important.)
The Yankees turned a relief pitcher-turned-starter (with a cautious injury history), an inspiring minor league arm (though with 2 levels still to master), spot starter (who has little prospect pedigree), and a middle-tier prospect pitcher (not much else to say on Vasquez) into the current best left-handed bat, at a position of major need, in the major leagues.
These are the highs of trading.
Trades for top tier players require top tier talent to be moved on from. In the Juan Soto deal many pundits over the next weeks and months (and maybe years) will come back to this deal to search and discover how the likes of Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Jhony Brito, and Randy Vasquez did in San Diego. They will remember this trade for those names.
For me, I'll remember this trade the same way I remember many others in my Yankee fandom.
At the 2018 trade deadline, the Yankees moved on from Chasen Shreve in the Luke Voit trade. Chasen Shreve had become a team favorite of mine and my oldest brothers' as an underrecognized pitcher out of the bullpen. I remember being let down that his time in pinstripes was over.
At the 2021 trade deadline, the Yankees moved on from Jordan Montgomery in the Harrison Bader trade. Jordan Montgomery was another one of those players I wish the Yankees kept around. I knew he had more to give.
And, last night, the Yankees added to this recent list as they have moved on from Kyle Higashioka.
The Yankees of the last few years have not been exciting to watch. The best players on the team were constantly hurt and the team as a whole was underperforming. The team was not playing near its potential and, truthfully, the constant rotation of new players had become overwhelming. There were so few players to really rally around as a fan.
As much as I am a fan of the New York Yankees. The team that is above all other teams. The greatest, most winningest, most championed, most valuable, most important franchise across the entire sporting world. As much as I am a fan of them, I also gravitate, always, towards those players who are forgotten amongst others who are bigger than life. Those guys who come in, give it their all, and leave without the media circus.
The Yankees traded away that player late last night.
Kyle Higashioka was, without a doubt, my favorite Yankee player from this current generation of Yankees players. The former longest tenured Yankee who signed with the team out of high school as a 7th round draft pick in 2009 who didn't make the MLB until 8 years later in 2017 and stuck around, resiliently, up until yesterday.
A player whose career trajectory was to maybe become a back-up. A player who had no prospect pedigree. A player who came in, did his thing, stuck around, and got rewarded.
Kyle Higashioka has a career bWAR of +0.9 over parts of 7 seasons in the MLB and a combined 314 games played. When he made the MLB, he didn't get a single hit in his first season over his 9 games in 2017.
It took until July, 2018 for Higashioka to get his first MLB hit. Which just so happened to come off of David Price, then a Red Sox. And that first hit landed deep down the left field line...and into the second deck. Everybody was rooting for the Yankee who couldn't get a hit. Everybody was rooting for this unknown player to be rewarded for his hard work.
And Higgy made that moment incredibly special.
When I was a kid, I loved the Matt Christopher books. He wrote about sports and his stories were fun and easy to read. One book in particular I used to check out from the library all the time was, "The Kid Who Only Hit Homers".
Kyle Higashioka is that kid. He has had just 180 hits in his career. He has also hit 40 home runs. An amazing 22% of his hits have gone over the fence. Add in his 38 career doubles and 43% of his hits have gone for extra-bases. When Higgy got on base, it was for more than just one.
But Kyle Higashioka did not hold his special moments just for himself.
Kyle Higashioka caught the first Yankees no-hitter in the 2000's, thrown by Corey Kluber, on May 19th, 2021.
Kyle Higashioka also caught just the 24th ever perfect game in MLB history on June 28th, 2023.
The only other catcher (that I know) that caught a no-hitter AND perfect game is Joe Girardi, but that's not the only record he holds.
Kyle Higashioka is also the holder of the record for the slowest pitch to be hit for a home run, after hitting a 35 mile per hour pitch from position-player pitcher Frank Schwindel.
I will accept that I am a select few.
I will accept that I, irrationally, would've kept around a 33-year-old back-up catcher with a career bWAR below that of Urbane Pickering, to stick around on this team.
But, I also have to accept that, in the business of sports, we need to let players go.
Kyle Higashioka is the every-man.
He has shown that, with hard work and grit, you- or maybe even I- can become a big leaguer.
Kyle Higashioka was the best.
Thank you, Kyle.
I can't wait to watch your requisite 10 home runs next season as a back-up catcher who becomes the hottest hitter in baseball for 2 weeks after needing to take over the starting role due to someone else's injury.
Good luck in San Diego, Higgy. Enjoy going back home.