Mailbag: Postseason bullpen strategy, Gary Sánchez’s future

Nothing to do with today’s mailbag, but I can’t wait to see this guy pitch tonight.

Happy Friday, everyone. We’re just a few hours away from Game 5. In the meantime, let’s open up this week’s mailbag. I’m only answering two questions because so many of this week’s questions related to the offseason after losses in Game 2 and Game 3. Let’s wait until the Yankees are actually eliminated (if they are eliminated!) to discuss the 2021 plans.

As always, shoot your questions to viewsfrom 314 [at] gmail [dot] com. Away we go:

Dan asked/suggested: The Yanks need to rethink their bullpen usage. Considering the no off days and the fact that they have only three good relievers, the Yanks should try using starters out of the pen on their throw days. It worked for the Nats last year. Do you think Masahiro Tanaka or JA Happ are up for it? 

I understand this sentiment, but the Nationals didn’t have much of a choice last year. The only reliever Washington could really trust was Daniel Hudson. Sean Doolittle too, I suppose. The Yankees have a deeper bullpen that’s really good on paper, inconsistencies aside. And sure, the lack of off days this postseason makes it more difficult on the Yankees’ traditional relievers, but it’s not as if that makes it any easier for starters as well.

It’s also important to point out that Washington really only did this with Patrick Corbin, who came out of the ‘pen five times last October. Yes, Stephen Strasburg relieved in the do-or-die Wild Card Game and Max Scherzer made one bullpen appearance in the NLDS, but that’s it.

Corbin, mind you, had a 3.25 ERA in 202 innings as a starter in the regular season. Masahiro Tanaka and JA Happ simply aren’t of that caliber and seem less certain to translate into good relievers. And it’s not like this strategy paid off for Washington right away. Corbin got bombed in his first relief outing against the Dodgers.

On top of that, Washington could afford to weaken its rotation. Having Scherzer and Strasburg up top allow that. Meanwhile, Corbin didn’t pitch very well in his two starts following relief work (11 innings, 8 runs). There’s a good chance he wasn’t as effective because those relief outings were much more strenuous than a traditional throw day. I don’t think the Yankees can afford to hurt its non-Gerrit Cole starters any further. The depth just isn’t there.

Now, to directly answer the question of whether or not Tanaka and Happ are up for the task? I guarantee you Tanaka is. You may recall this before he joined the Yankees:

That was Game 7 of the Japan Series. A winner take all scenario where everyone’s available. Maybe we see Tanaka tonight. Remember, this is different than pitching on a throw day: the Yankees have to win this one. Everything is thrown out the window here. Pitching Tanaka in relief in the middle of a series? I’d rather not.

And Happ? No way, especially after we saw how he handled Game 2 of this series. Not like I’d want to see him getting big outs in relief anyway.

A few asked a variation of: What’s Gary Sánchez’s future with the Yankees?

Embed from Getty Images

It’s really starting to feel like Sánchez won’t be back next year, isn’t it? Gary’s started just two of the Yankees’ six postseason games this season after a really dreadful 2020 regular season. The team’s patience with him has seemed to wear thin, and in fairness, Kyle Higashioka has done well in his opportunities (.313/.353/.500 this postseason).

Sánchez, who is three years young than the 30 year-old Higashioka, isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2022 season. So, the Yankees could very easily bring him back next season and try this all over again. One reader asked if he could be sent to the minors, and the answer to that is no. He has no more options remaining, so it’s the majors or bust.

A trade really feels like a possibility. I can’t say I want to trade him: catchers don’t grow on trees, you know. Are we sure that Kyle Higashioka and a free agent signing (i.e. James McCann, Jason Castro, or Tyler Flowers?) are a better option than trying to run it back next year? And no, they are not signing JT Realmuto.

Now, the Yankees know that catchers are hard to find and I’m not sure they necessarily want to trade Sánchez, as bad as he’s been. But like what happened with Sonny Gray, it may just be time for a change in scenery. The Yankees sold low on Gray even though they still needed pitching and he’s done great in Cincinnati. I have this vision of Gary getting traded to the Marlins and blossoming down in Miami.

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6 Comments

  1. MikeD

    I don’t see them moving past Sanchez at this point. For this postseason? Sure. Sanchez just isn’t hitting and hasn’t all year and Higgy is the better defender.

    The Yankees will go into 2021 with Sanchez as their catcher, although they’ll be open to playing Higgy more if Sanchez doesn’t rebound. Sanchez is a streaky hitter, and let’s not forget this is an abbreviated season. It’s not even like he had a bad “year.” He had a bad 40-something games. In a regular full season, Gary might have hit .300 with 15 bombs the next-something games, because that’s, well, Gary.

    Is Higgy a starting catcher? The dude is 30 already, a career minor leaguers with a long injury history. He was injured this year too. As the saying goes, few things are more overrated by fans than back-up catchers and back-up quarterbacks. Once they are exposed to daily play it becomes clear why they are back ups. Romine, some fans were rooting for the prior two years to play more? Went to Detroit to be a starter, hit .215 with zero power and walks, so the Tigers are moving on. John Ryan Murphy? Is he even still on a MLB roster?

    Higgy does have decent power, so maybe there’s something there. Don’t know. Not judging him by just a few games. Play the hot hand now, but I suspect Gary is the starting catcher come next April. And in a full season, Gary likely crushes 30+ HRs again. Higgy will catch Cole, do a decent back-up job, with at least a couple trips to the IL.

  2. brian

    Why would they trade Sanchez now? His trade value is at it’s lowest ever since he was like in High-A ball. If he’s not good next year, he’s still making like, backup catcher money. So he’s your backup catcher.

  3. John DeFrancisco

    Sanchez looks confused at the plate. He seems to have lost his confidence and his ability to distinguish a ball from a strike. If a pitcher gets ahead of him, he chase.
    balls out of the strike zone. I believe he feels pressure to preform because he
    knows that Boone is ready to insert Higgy. I also know that he is not the best defensive in the league, but I still think he is a dangerous hitter. I’m not ready to give up on him yet.

  4. Gerreddardit Cole

    We just don’t have any starters that can do that, Dan. Tanaka and Happ are not high end relievers. Deivi is about the only one that could be that but Boone seems reluctant to use him. I’d just start Deivi if we make it to the ALCS and make Happ a long reliever that only pitches in blowouts. The solution is then to just pitch the starters as long as you can before going to the pen. With 7 straight games you’ll have to get more from the starters and guys like Cessa, Crappavino and Lasagna.

    Gary’s gotta go, Bobby. Higgy is better in every facet of the game. Trade Gary to the NL. He needs more discipline and structure. Girardi and Pena were able to do that but it’s just not Boone’s style. I hope they fire Boone and hire Buck in the offseason. Buck would give Gary what he needs. But if Boone stays Gary goes. It’s obvious Boone has lost patience with him.

  5. Gregory Cool

    He is the worse catcher in the major leagues behind the plate and should never get a walk because if you get a strike on him just throw balls on the outside of the plate and he will strike out. You said they would never sign J.T. but after signing D.J . That’s exactly what they should do . The teams that keep winning are the teams that hit for average. If the Yankees don’t figure that out they will never win. I don’t care about numbers Judge should never bat any higher then 4th. He kills rallies all the time .

  6. James Scully

    Gary’s slash line with Girari/Pena riding him:

    G: 177
    PA: 756
    AB: 674
    R: 113
    H: 191
    2B: 32
    3B: 0
    HR: 53
    RBI: 132
    BB: 64
    SO: 178
    BA: .283
    OBP: .353
    SLG: .567
    OPS: .920
    OPS+: 138

    Gary’s slashline with Boone as his manager:

    G: 244
    PA: 998
    AB: 875
    R: 132
    H: 175
    2B: 33
    3B: 1
    HR: 62
    RBI: 154
    BB: 104
    SO: 283
    BA: .200
    OBP: .296
    SLG: .453
    OPS: .748
    OPS+: 99

    Sanchez is loaded with every talent you’d ever want someone to have as a Catcher on both sides of the ball. There were questions about his effort in the minors. He might be the kind of player who needs someone riding his butt all the time. However, if there are continued effort questions now and he’s still only making $5MIL a season, what will his effort be if/when he’s making $15MIL?

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