By next Wednesday’s non-tender deadline, the Yankees will have to make a decision on how to proceed with Gary Sánchez. The 27-year-old (28 next week) originally signed with the New York organization as an international amateur back in 2009. He emerged as a top prospect and burst onto the MLB scene with an otherworldly final two months in 2016. He finished as runner-up in AL Rookie of the Year voting that year after hitting 20 home runs in just 229 plate appearances.
Sánchez backed that up with an elite 2017 season that saw him garner some down-ballot MVP support. After an injury-hampered, disappointing 2018 effort, Sánchez seemingly reemerged as one of the game’s premier catchers in 2019. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off completely in 2020, as he hit .147/.253/.365 with a woeful 36% strikeout rate. By the postseason, Sánchez had mostly fallen behind Kyle Higashioka on the depth chart.
He’s also drawn his share of criticism for his work behind the plate. Some of that is deserved, as his 52 passed balls over the past five seasons leads the sport. Sánchez generally rated as a slightly below-average pitch framer as well. But his rocket arm has helped him cut down 32.6% of attempted basestealers in his career, well above the league average of 27.2%. Altogether, he’s a generally average defensive catcher in the estimation of Defensive Runs Saved (although he did rate rather poorly in 2020).
So, how to proceed with a player who has had his share of ups and downs? Over his career, Sánchez has been plenty productive in the Bronx. His .236/.320/.502 career slash line works out to a 117 wRC+, indicating he’s been seventeen points better than the league average hitter. Among qualified catchers, only Yasmani Grandal has edged out Sánchez offensively since the latter broke into the league. Sánchez’s projected $5.1MM – $6.4MM arbitration salary would be a bargain if he can rediscover that form at the plate. But the backstop’s most recent season was atrocious, leaving the Yankees’ front office in a bind.
There isn’t another clear fit at catcher on the current roster. A team with World Series aspirations can’t feel comfortable turning the primary job over to Higashioka. Free agency offers a few options. J.T. Realmuto is the prize, but James McCann and Yadier Molina look like potential regulars. (The Yankees have shown some interest in Molina already). To non-tender Sánchez would be a tough blow, though, considering how recently he looked like a franchise cornerstone. They could explore the trade market, but Sánchez isn’t exactly teeming with surplus value, as Craig Edwards of FanGraphs recently explored.
Assuming opposing teams aren’t willing to give up much value in trade, where should GM Brian Cashman and the front office go from here?
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