Gary Sanchez endured a historically bad 2020 season. That presents the Yankees with a huge problem to solve at catcher this offseason.
When the Yankees look to assign blame for their failure to win a World Series title in 2020, Gary Sanchez is going to get a hefty share. His epic struggles at the plate and inability to produce anything approximating average defense behind the plate put Aaron Boone’s team at a disadvantage every time Sanchez took the field.
The organization will not tolerate such putrid play for a second consecutive season. The Yankees will be desperate to upgrade their production at the catcher position this offseason. The question Brian Cashman and his front office must answer is whether or not Sanchez deserves a shot at redemption.
Defense has never been a strong suit for the 27-year-old. The organization has worked tirelessly with Sanchez to improve his glovework, but the results just haven’t come. He did a better job framing pitches this season, but he’s still a wreck when it comes to stopping pitches behind the plate. That means he yields too many passed balls while also making his pitchers hesitant to throw breaking pitches in the dirt with runners on base. There’s no way to quantify Sanchez as anything other than a poor defensive catcher.
In previous seasons, his production at the plate was large enough to cause the Yankees to overlook those defensive shortcomings. That narrative came crashing down around the organization’s ears in 2020. Sanchez mashed 10 home runs, but his .147 batting average and on-base percentage of just .253 on the campaign shows what a nightmare he was with a bat in his hands last season.
Sanchez’s drain on the Yankees goes beyond his simple performance on the field though. His lack of energy and poor body language drags his teammates down over the course of a season as well. The front office also needs to weigh the negative impact Sanchez can have on those around him based on his perceived lack of work ethic.
What can the Yankees do with Sanchez?
Add it all up and the Yankees have a tough decision to make this offseason. They have the opportunity to exercise two more season of team control over Sanchez via the league’s arbitration process. They also have the ability to simply non-tender the player this offseason and let him leave via free agency.
The easy choice would be to simply let Sanchez go to arbitration and bring him back on what would effectively be another one-year contract. His poor play in 2020 won’t qualify him for any sort of raise over the $5 million he earned this season. If he can enjoy a bounceback campaign in 2021, that could turn into a relative bargain for the organization.
But what should the Yankees do?
That’s not the right choice for an organization that wants to win a title though. The chances of Sanchez ever living up to his full potential are almost non-existent. It’s time for the Yankees to let him walk and spend serious resources to obtain a superior replacement.
For the record, that doesn’t mean the team should simply hand over the starting assignment to Kyle Higashioka. He did a decent job of filling in for Sanchez in the postseason, but he’s far too limited to be the everyday catcher for a team with legitimate World Series aspirations.
Instead, the organizations should make the reluctant decision to dip into free agency and snag J.T. Realmuto. In many ways, he’s the complete antithesis to Sanchez. He’s a strong hitter whose ability to hit for both power and contact makes him a nightmare for opposing pitchers to face. His quality glovework behind the plate makes him a favorite receiver for pitchers as well.
Perhaps more importantly, Realmuto is the sort of worker that the Yankees need to galvanize their clubhouse. This team lacked veteran leadership in 2020. Signing Realmuto would give Boone a guy he can really lean on to motivate his players when times get tough.
Admittedly, signing Realmuto will cost the Yankees a small fortune. It’s a worthwhile investment though. Turning the team’s biggest weakness into a strength could be the difference between a nice 2021 season and a 28th World Series title for the Yankees.