Whatever decision the New York Yankees make regarding embattled catcher Gary Sanchez, the team had better be completely right.
The opinions are split into two camps.
On one side are those who feel, his general struggles aside, Sanchez is the Yankees’ franchise catcher. The power exists and is strong enough for the low batting average and high strikeout rate (K%) to be somewhat worth it.
The other camp holds the complete opposite opinion. Sanchez is a liability across the board and the Yankees would be wise to either trade or release him. The lack of a clear successor doesn’t matter. Just get him off the team and wait for the next star backstop to arrive whenever.
And though Sanchez possesses two more years of team control before free agency, the Yankees need to make a decision soon. Wednesday marks not only the polarizing catcher’s 28th birthday, but also MLB’s non-tender deadline. Sanchez is coming off a horrific pandemic-shortened season, and New York is rumoredly looking at other catchers on the market.
It’s a big decision looming for general manager Brian Cashman, one no one would have expected him to have to make just a few years ago.
Furthermore, there is no way to sugarcoat this. Whatever Cashman decides to do about Sanchez, he had better be right.
The case for staying
We all know Sanchez can hit. Even as fans oohed and aahed over Jesus Montero nearly ten years ago, scouts stressed he was not the golden goose behind the plate. No, that was Sanchez, a then-fairly unknown prospect who was still just 18 years old.
The scouts were right. Montero was traded to the Seattle Mariners for Michael Pineda in 2012 before getting caught up in the Biogenesis scandal and only playing in 226 MLB games in five years. Sanchez, meanwhile, debuted in 2016 and hit .299 with 20 home runs and 42 RBIs in just 53 games.
And though Sanchez is still just a .236 career hitter, the power has always been present. He followed his rookie campaign with 33 homers and 90 RBIs in just 122 games in 2017. In 2019, he slugged 34 and became the fastest catcher in MLB history to reach 100 career home runs.
Needless to say, the man can deliver at the plate.
Release the Kraken
Yet, Sanchez’s power doesn’t take away from his career story being enough of a yo-yo to the point where it’s surprising Duncan Toys hasn’t sponsored him. He hit .299 and .278 in 2016 and ’17, respectively, but then saw his average dip to .186 in an injury-riddled 2018.
Sanchez’s power rebounded last year, but a slump paired with a poorly timed injury saw his batting average dip to .232. This past season, he hit a pitiful .147 with just 23 hits, ten of which were home runs. His K% was 36%, nearly ten points above his career mark.
Throw in ongoing issues with defense, and it’s no wonder some feel it’s best to move on from Sanchez. In fact, according to longtime MLB insider Jon Heyman, the Yankees have already checked in on Chicago White Sox catcher James McCann. Additionally, longtime St. Louis Cardinals catcher and soon-to-be free agent Yadier Molina mentioned in an interview that the Yankees had reached out to him.
Yadier Molina: "I would like to stay in San Luis. Others team have shown interest: Yankees, Mets, San Diego and Anaheim." https://t.co/tpxAZbL2vX
— Héctor Gómez (@hgomez27) November 27, 2020
This is after manager Aaron Boone said in his end-of-season presser, “I still have a ton of confidence in Gary Sanchez.” Thus, what will New York actually do come Wednesday?
Aaron Boone: "I still have a ton of confidence in Gary Sanchez." pic.twitter.com/UaZoyUkoC7
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) October 14, 2020
Who takes over for Gary?
Anyway, I’m rambling, but let’s take a look at who the Yankees have been linked to, starting with Molina. We all know he can field. He has a career defensive runs saved (DRS) of 170 to go with nine Gold Gloves. Molina also carries two World Series rings to his name. Veteran championship experience in the clubhouse could be just what this young Yankees team needs.
However, Molina is also 38 years old, isn’t really a power hitter, and coming up on his 18th year in the majors. Maybe he can be for the Yankees what Jake Taylor was for the Cleveland Indians in “Major League,” but it’s unlikely he puts New York over the top.
The more interesting option of the two is McCann, who has spent the last two years with the Chicago White Sox. McCann set career highs when he hit .273 with 18 home runs and 60 RBIs in 2018. He hit .289 in the shortened 2020 season as well. Like Sanchez, he too has struggled with defense and holds a career DRS of -1, but has shown marked improvement in recent years.
Yet, McCann has never played in more than 118 games in a season. Is Cashman really going to gamble on him or the aging Molina when neither is really a grand improvement over Sanchez?
If it were up to me, the Yankees would stay committed to Sanchez for at least one more year. The pandemic affected every player’s preparation and flow, and odds are Sanchez just slumped worse than others. Sixty games is a small sample size, so every flaw is magnified.
This is why if the Yankees do indeed move on from him, they had better be right that Sanchez is irreversibly declining. Imagine he is non-tendered, the Yankees sign one of Molina or McCann, and either has a simply average year in the Bronx. Meanwhile, Sanchez signs with or gets traded to a new team and hits .280 with 40 home runs and 100 RBIs. That wouldn’t be an ideal look for Cashman or the organization.
But this is a double-edged sword, too. If Sanchez remains in pinstripes and looks just as lost again in a full season, New York is out of luck at catcher. Trading for a catcher would then be a certainty, and likely at the cost of minor league prospects.
The reckoning of Sanchez is coming sooner than anyone anticipated. Cashman’s pending decision isn’t easy and risks further frustration. He needs to trust his instincts to make the best choice for the team.
Hopefully, his verdict on Gary Sanchez turns out to be the right one.