Gary Sanchez
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The Yankees backstop is running out of time to return to his old self.

Since he burst onto the scene in 2016, New York Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez has been an enigmatic player. His offense has been inconsistent and his defense has a topic of debate.

In short, Sánchez has been the subject of more hot takes than any player on the Yankees over the time he’s been with the Pinstripes.

So as the Yankees look ahead to a significant 2021 season, the phrase “make or break” applies.

Cashman Speaks

On Friday, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman made an appearance on WFAN’s “Moose & Maggie” to discuss Sánchez’s disappointing 2020 season.

In response to Sánchez’s comments to ESPN in December about not knowing why he was benched, Cashman said, “… the whole world knows why…”.

He called Sánchez’s season “horrible” and said that it doesn’t matter whether or not Sánchez was told directly, the fact of the matter is that the lineup card speaks for itself and “you have to earn your keep to stay on that card”.

He continued: “You had a horrible year and lost your job at the most important time of the season… It is what it is, and your play speaks for itself. You play well enough to keep playing or you don’t.”

Cashman’s words may seem harsh, but he did say that he expects Sanchez to turn it around next year.

“I know he’s looking forward to proving last year was a fluke and we look forward to him justifying our continued commitment to him and his talent level… because, obviously, we’ve invested our time, effort and money into him for good reason. We do believe in him.”

Cashman was clearly one of many who were disappointed in Sánchez’s play last season and wasn’t fond of his remarks about not understanding why he was benched.

However, he does have hope that Sánchez will be able to turn things around and bounce back in 2021. The fact that he and the organization have stayed committed to him is proof of that.

So, what do Cashman’s comments mean for Sánchez, moving forward?

It’s go time

The 2021 season will be the most important of Sánchez’s career, to date. It’s incredibly reasonable to believe that this is the season that will define his future.

He’s had his chances, but is now on a short leash. He must (continue to) spend this offseason working on his plate discipline, defense and, most importantly, his confidence.

Sánchez hasn’t always been like this.

For the first few years of his career, he was one of the best catchers in baseball. Sánchez made his MLB debut in 2015 and took the league by storm in 2016.

He finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting after slashing .299/.376/.657 with an OPS of 1.032, OPS+ of 168, 20 home runs, and 42 RBI in 53 games.

In 2018, he slashed .278/.345/.531 with an OPS of .876, 126 OPS+, 33 home runs, and 90 RBI in 122 games. He was an All-Star as well as a Silver Slugger. No catcher in MLB history reached the 100 home run mark faster than Sánchez.

His defense was never good, it usually wasn’t even average, but his offense made up for it. He regressed quite significantly in 2018 and 2019, but still managed to hit 52 home runs and record 130 RBI over that span.

His struggles didn’t become extremely concerning until 2020. Sánchez was so bad that, as we mentioned, he ended up being benched for Kyle Higashioka in the playoffs.

Looking at his numbers and past performances, everyone knows that Sánchez is capable of being not only better than he has been, but one of the very best in the game.

However, it’s crucial that he realizes this fact this season, because the clock is running out for him. It’s difficult to envision the Yankees still sticking with Sánchez as their number one backstop if he has another dreadful season.

He isn’t an unrestricted free agent until after the 2022 season, so he might have one more chance, but the Yankees will likely prepare to move on after 2021.

If Sánchez has a bad 2021 but is still around in 2022, he might even just be used as a back-up option.

Part of the solution?

The Yankees’ window is wide open, but their roster isn’t getting any younger. They’ll also have to begin paying several of the “Baby Bombers” sooner rather than later.

No window stays open forever, and Sánchez is beginning to become a piece that holds this team back.

He never provided the team with defense, which is a problem in the regular season as well as the playoffs, but it was fine because he was mashing home runs and coming up with big hits instead.

Now, he brings nothing but three-swing strikeouts on curveballs in the dirt to the table. Heck, he doesn’t even move runners over with his outs.

Before Cashman even spoke about this, it was clear that Sánchez’s time to turn things around was running out. Evidently, the organization is running out of patience and realizes that the team needs a productive catcher in order to go deep in October.

Sánchez is capable of becoming the Yankees’ x-factor in 2021, but he can also hold them back, once again.