The Yankees announced Tuesday that they will tender a contract to all of their arbitration-eligible players, including catcher Gary Sanchez. Sanchez has come up as a possible non-tender candidate in each of the past two offseasons but he’ll be offered a contract and remain with the club for the time being. He’s projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $7.9MM in 2022 — his final season of arbitration eligibility.
Sanchez, 29 this week, has become a polarizing player among Yankee fans given his near-unparalleled power at the catcher position but also his low batting averages, high strikeout rates and shaky defensive skills. The former top prospect looked like a star in the making from 2016-17 but has since ridden a roller coaster of productivity to a composite .201/.299/.444 slash with a 28.1% strikeout rate.
Poor batting average notwithstanding, Sanchez’s ability to draw a walk and immense power clearly are valued by the Yankees (and likely would be by other clubs as well). Metrics like wRC+ and OPS+ (both at 99 from 2018-21) suggest that the walks and power are enough to bring Sanchez right up to the cusp of league-average production, though the path he takes to get there is a rather unpopular one among fans. Still, when Sanchez is on a hot streak, his bat can carry a team. Those frequent but brief flashes of potential serve as a reminder of the overall upside and the reason that the Yankees have stuck with him despite the ups and downs.
That said, it’s not as though New York chose not to explore the market for alternatives. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets that the Yankees explored the free-agent and trade markets for catching help in recent days before opting to simply stick with Sanchez. It’s a thin free-agent market for catching options, however, with Yan Gomes standing out as the lone starting-caliber option behind the dish. The trade market, meanwhile had a few potential options, but GM Brian Cashman was ostensibly either nonplused with the available names themselves or the asking prices attached. New York was at least speculatively linked to 2021 Gold Glove winner Jacob Stallings, but he was traded from Pittsburgh to Miami yesterday in exchange for a three-player package.
All that said, while Sanchez is at least in line to serve as the team’s primary backstop in 2022, it’s more written in pencil than etched in stone. Arbitration contracts are only partially guaranteed, as teams can cut a player on an arb contract and owe them only 30 days’ termination pay (i.e. prorated salary) so long as the move is made prior to the halfway point in Spring Training. Cutting a player in the second half of camp boosts that number to 45 days’ prorated salary, and the contract becomes fully guaranteed on Opening Day.
It seems unlikely that New York would simply release Sanchez, of course, but the Yanks could conceivably reinvestigate the catching market to see if there are new trade possibilities — both in terms of players to acquire and teams with interest in Sanchez — in the days following the likely lockout. The smart money is on Sanchez reprising his role as the Yankees’ primary catcher next season, of course, but it remains possible that an unexpected opportunity will prompt the Yanks to pivot.
Backing up Sanchez will quite likely be Kyle Higashioka, who bore some similarities to Sanchez in 2021 — at least offensively. While Higashioka is a better defender, his .181/.246/.389 slash struck a familiar chord: plenty of pop and a respectable number of walks but low average/on-base marks fueled by a lofty strikeout rate. Higashioka is out of minor league options, so if the Yankees wanted to find a different skill set to back up Sanchez, they’d likely need to expose the 31-year-old Higashioka to waivers, as it’s unlikely they’d carry three catchers on the roster.
Jack Curry of the YES Network first reported that Sanchez would be tendered a contract.