Gary Sánchez ushered in a new era for the Yankees. While Aaron Judge ultimately and deservedly became the face of the Baby Bombers, The Kraken is the one who excited many about the team’s future after a dreary few years. His unbelievable late summer performance in 2016 jump started what was expected to be a return to glory for this franchise.
In retrospect, Sánchez torrid start may have done him in over the long run. Posting a .299/.376/.657 (170 wRC+) batting line with 20 homers in merely 229 plate appearances as a 23 year old rookie was simply too high of a bar to set. Granted, he was pretty terrific offensively in ’17 (131 wRC+, 33 homers), his first full season as a the club’s backstop, but that was also the year folks really started to scrutinize Sánchez’s defense behind the plate. The easy explanation for what happened next is that things snowballed and the criticism and/or pressure got to him.
It’s official: the Yankees have acquired Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Ben Rortvedt from the Twins in exchange Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela. A stunner, to put it lightly. It’s a move that feels like it must precede a couple of other transactions that remain to be seen.
The deal crosses off one task from the offseason to do list: get a shortstop. No, it’s not the one any of us wanted in Carlos Correa or Trevor Story. Kiner-Falefa is the stopgap shortstop until one of Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe are ready.
Additionally, as odd of a fit as it seems, Donaldson does offer a boost to the offense, which the team certainly needed after last year. How he’ll get along with Gerrit Cole remains to be seen. There are concerns about Donaldson’s age (36) and health, too.
No Yankee garners (mostly negative) attention like backstop Gary Sánchez. He’s been the team’s full-time catcher since the second half of 2016, and from that time and through the 2017 season, he looked like a lock to be one of the best catchers in the majors for years to come. Instead, Sánchez has regressed. His bat, which was his calling card and earned him the nickname The Kraken, has been league-average since 2018 (99 wRC+), albeit better than your typical catcher (89 wRC+). Sánchez’s defense has never been anything to write home about, but it was easier to overlook when he was raking early in his career.
The hot start to Sánchez’s career surely poisoned the well among Yankees fans. He set the bar so incredibly high, at least offensively, and now it’s difficult to recognize that he’s still better at hitting than the typical catcher. There’s no denying his poor glovework, however. Ultimately, some fans have wished for Gary’s departure for the past three or four seasons, and this offseason, they may finally get their wish after a pretty awful finish to the 2021 season.
The Process. For the better part of a decade, we’ve heard this term in sports, sometimes earnestly, sometimes as a mockery of that earnestness. Regardless, though, every team in every sport has a Process. From time to time, that Process needs to be altered if not outright changed. As I wrote last week, the Yankees are at a crossroads and their process is in need of alteration at the least and revolution at the most.
Allow me an oversimplification. There are two parts to the Process that have to happen before we see the results on the field: acquisition and application. First you’ve gotta get what you need, then you’ve gotta put that stuff–players, information, whatever–in a good position to succeed. For the most part, the Yankees are pretty good at the former.
Year in and year out, they put a good team out on the field. They’ve had no losing seasons since I was, like, five and have only missed the playoffs four times since 1994. That’s really good! Of course, that’s only led to one championship in the last twenty years and has more recently ended in a good deal of postseason heartbreak. This is all to say they’ve been good, but not good enough. The acquisition part of the process needs a change.
What that change looks like can vary. Maybe it’s getting players with a slightly different hitting profile, getting away from all take-and-rake guys. Maybe it’s going back to the basics and adding steady left-handed power. Maybe–and most importantly, given their commitment to load management–it’s investing in the bench so that Rougned Odor, Tyler Wade, and Brett Gardner aren’t your best replacements (Gardner’s oft-resurgent 2021 notwithstanding). Maybe it’s signing or trading for reliable pithcers and not reclamation pieces. Regardless, the roster construction looks a little stale and inflexible at this point and there needs to be a tweak.
Another tweak? Remember who you are. You’re the Yankees. You literally print money. Act like it! Stop blushing at how much money you make and pour some of it back into the team like you did in the early 2000’s. The Yankee payroll is high, but relative to the league and relative to their own revenue, they still spend like it’s that time. To borrow from my own tweets:
I know that spending big sounds obvious and very “if the Boss were alive,” but I trust them (mostly) to spend more judiciously than they did in the past. My point is that big spending–Dodgers aside–is the new market inefficiency and the Yankees are uniquely positioned to exploit it. A bunch of teams are trying to lose. A bunch of teams aren’t trying too hard to win. There’s a bit of a vacuum there and the Yankees can and should fill it. Grabbing reclamation project or scrap heap projects is cute and can prove that you’re really smart and what not, but it only gets you so far, doesn’t it? And that’s if it even works with those players, which is very much not a guarantee.
Stop trying to be the smartest guy in the room. Stop trying to out Rays the Rays. Use your advantage.
On the application side of things, the fact that the Yankees just let their hitting coaches go shows that a change is, indeed, coming. The organization prides itself on its analytics department, which is great. The more information the better. But there’s clearly a disconnect in how that information is being delivered to players or executed by players. While the coaches and analytics department ultimately don’t play the games for the players, it’s disconcerting when Gleyber Torres takes a step back like he did, when Gary Sanchez is merely average instead of great, when DJ LeMahieu turns into a pumpkin, when a multitude of starters whose potential the Yankees were going to unlock–Michael Pineda, Nate Eovaldi, Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, James Paxton–just doesn’t work out.
The Yankees have earned a degree of trust in their Process with literal decades of success. But that trust may be waning among the fanbase and that process may be too stuck in the past. To paraphrase Don Draper, change doesn’t have to be good or bad. It can just be. It might be time for the Process to change.
Gary Sánchez has been a lightning rod for a few years now. There are staunch defenders of him (us at Views, typically) and those who can’t wait to get rid of him. There’s no denying that Sánchez hasn’t been the guy we saw in 2016 and 2017 for a few years now. His offensive prowess has cratered and his defense has been mostly not good. Yet, at the same time, it’s going to be next to impossible for the Yankees to upgrade at starting catcher for the 2022 season.
Good catchers simply aren’t easy to come by. Teams don’t trade them away and it’s pretty rare that a good one reaches free agency. And even for all of Sánchez’s faults, he’s still one of the better catchers in the majors. There aren’t that many catchers below who I’m certain will be better than Gary in 2022. And odds are that none of them will be acquirable.
I think the two issues many fans have with Sánchez is fatigue and unreasonable expectations. The Kraken’s offensive onslaught in 2016 and 2017 (.284/.354/.568, 53 HR, 143 wRC+ in 754 PA) set a ridiculous benchmark for a young catcher. It was both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it helped propel the Yankees into contention in ’17, while it also cursed Sánchez by making his league average numbers thereafter look awful. And in turn, the offensive decline also made it harder to ignore his defensive shortcomings.