Finding an upgrade at catcher will be difficult

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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.

via Baseball Prospectus

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.

From 2018 to now, Sánchez owns a .201/.299/.444 (99 wRC+) in 1,438 plate appearances. Not a pretty line, that’s for sure, but when you compare it to the average major league catcher, it’s not so bad. The average backstop hit .228/.304/.391 (89 wRC+) this season. That’s essentially the same on-base skills as Sánchez, except without the added power Gary brings to the table.

While the top line stats look solid in context, I can’t lie by saying that I’m not disappointed in Sánchez’s offensive game since 2018. It looked like he was going to become one of this generation’s best offensive hitters. Alas, that’s not the case. The emotional side of the game makes the downturn disappointing, but in context, there’s no rational argument against Gary being an above-average offensive player given the position he plays.

Defensively, there are plenty of catchers better than Sánchez. It was a lot easier to overlook that from ’16-’17. It’s not as easy now, even if there’s a bit of a tradeoff given that Sánchez is actually giving more hitting-wise in turn. His blocking issues, below average framing, and the sporadic defensive lapses (that tag play at the end of the season, for instance) are very frustrating.

I certainly want better defense behind the plate. But again, I just don’t know how the Yankees can find that. Sure, there’s probably a Chris Stewart-esque guy they could get, but are you willing to add an offensive black hole to the starting lineup? Or, do you really want Kyle Higashioka starting everyday (63 wRC+ in 415 career PA)? No thanks to either question.

Now, it’d be one thing to move on from Sánchez if there was an attainable replacement. And uh, nope. The two best catchers who will be free agents after the World Series are Yan Gomes and Manny Piña. Definitely not slam dunks to be upgrades over Sánchez. Would I take them as backups over Higgy? Sure, but not as a starting catcher.

It’s not like the Yankees have catching prospects waiting in the wings, either. Donny Sands and/or Josh Breaux could be 40-man additions this winter, but neither are going to usurp Sánchez. Austin Wells is further away and his defense is a huge question mark. Anthony Seigler hasn’t developed. The team really has nowhere to go internally.

Frankly, the big regret, in hindsight, is not signing JT Realmuto last offseason (assuming he would come to New York). Not only do good catchers rarely hit the open market, but it’s even rarer for (arguably) the best one in the league to be out there. Yes, this is major Monday Morning Quarterbacking, but not getting Realmuto was a mistake.

Sánchez will be a free agent after the 2022 season, so the team’s decision on the long-term catcher will come to a head within the next year. Maybe there will be a surprising trade, albeit seemingly unlikely. Maybe one of the catching prospects will break out next summer. Or, maybe the Yankees will decide they need Sánchez beyond 2022. Like it or not, that’s a realistic possibility. An upgrade at the position would be great, but it’s far easier said than done.

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34 Comments

  1. Pieter

    Gary is above average full-stop. Deal with SS, the fourth outfielder, and the backup infielders before you deal with him.

  2. chip56

    I’ll take Wilson Contreras.

    At this point I might let you talk me into Jose Contreras.

  3. Steve T

    Choosing a catcher strictly on OPS+ is the same kind of analytical crap that got us into this mess. At the end of 1995, the Yankees replaced a career 117 OPS+ Mike Stanley with a career 72 OPS+ Joe Girardi. But Girardi was faster, more athletic, a better defender, a good leader, and had a baseball IQ. Plus, he played the NL brand of ball (bunt, hit & run, suicide squeeze, high contact) that Torre and Zimmer preferred. You want Sanchez as a backup a la Leyritz ’96 or the return of Stanley ’97, that’s fine, but don’t let his relatively above average OPS+ blind you to the fact that he’s just not a good all around catcher and the Yankees could do better.

    • Anthony Rizzeddardo

      I couldn’t agree more, Steve. What made that late 90’s club so great is everyone knew their role and the guys that hit for power like Tino, Paulie, Bernie, Jorgie hit for average too. Even the ’09 club with Hideki, Johnny, Jorgie, Robbie Cano hit for average. Teix hit .292 that year before the analytics dept turned him into a boom or bust type hitter. They had speed, they had athleticism, they had different types of hitters in the lineup. Now it’s just all the same hitter trying to hero swing to hit the 6 run HR. And they say well what about shifts. The other team just wants me to hit the ball the other way. No, they want you to hit the ball right where they’re standing. That’s why they’re standing there! This version of the club was at its best when Greg Allen, Esteban Florial and Andrew Velazquez gave it a different dimension of speed, defense and contact hitting. Then for some reason after the 13 game win streak they inserted Joey Gallo, Voit came back and they reverted back to the slow plodding strike outs four times a game. We need different types of hitters in the lineup and Gary just doesn’t fit and neither does Voit or Gallo.

      • Pieter

        “Before the analytics department turned him into a boom or bust…”

        Actually that was his aging curve, which is something analytics could have predicted.

  4. Steve ferrer

    I get sad when sanchez and gallo come to the plate.they are rally killers.sanchez should be gone by now and how do we handle another year of gallo.two big holes in the lineup.why did gallo bat fifth all yearyear.garys passed balls keep our pitchers from throwing in the dirt and whenever there is a man on third I shudder.please gary and joey need to go.now.

  5. DanGer

    I think like a lot of players (Gallo, Hicks, Torres, etc.) he’s fallen in love with the homer. He’s still elite in barreling and exit velo. He’s just gotten more extreme with true outcomes

    2016-2017 – 53 homers, 32 doubles, 106 singles, 64 BB in 754 PA
    2018-2021 – 85 homers, 46 doubles (plus 2 triples), 120 singles, and 156 BB in 1,438 PA

    So in almost twice as many PA, homers increased by only 60%, doubles by 44%, and singles an unsightly 13%. Interestingly, his walks were up 144%.

    Add just a dozen singles this year and his line would have been something like .235/.330/.430. That’s actually better than Brian McCann as a Yankee….

  6. MikeD

    That list of MLB catchers is…disgusting.

    It made perfect sense to be a Gary supporter in that we saw his upside in three of his first four seasons, including as recently as 2019 when he put up a 119 OPS+. Gary, however, is a bat-first catcher, which means he has to hit. Three of his first four seasons he did; three of his last four seasons he now hasn’t. The most recent season he was basically a league-average hitter, but that’s not enough when encompassing his defensive skills. He really has degenerated as a hitter. Looking at his negative regression, as well as Gleyber’s, and it’s fair to question the Yankees MLB coaching. Both are organizational failures. Gleyber, at least, seems to have find his way the last 2 and 1/2 months. Non-zero chance Gary leaves the Yankees and his hitting gets back on track. Regardless, it is time to move on, but finding a replacement won’t be easy.

  7. Richard K

    For those shaking in their boots about him going elsewhere, I highly doubt he would go to an AL East Rival. We’re not talking Ottavino here (as much as that lacked sense). And rather then concentrate on the dingers, I choose to think about what it would be like to have a catcher who can actually play defense. They don’t need more dingers or even to maintain them, they need a bat to ball guy who your pitchers aren’t afraid to throw a pitch in the dirt to. I’ve seen enough of the Kraken experiment.

  8. Amaury Hernandez

    Maybe if he ended up playing for the Blue Jays everyone including Gary would be happy and no doubt he would have more dingers. Rogers Park would be a godsend for Gary. He could then help the Jays by giving them insight into the Yankees pitchers, be careful what you wish for you might just get it. Just imagine Eovaldi this year and Gary next year hitting the game winner off his favorite pitcher, Cole

  9. So here is the article in a nutshell…

    Sanchez stinks but so does everyone else behind the plate who might be available.

    That’s a far cry from the ‘generational’ talent and ‘best hitter on the team’ stuff we heard in 2016 and 2017.

    He’s had one halfway decent year (2018) out of the past 4, and, after completely reworking his swing (removal of the leg kick) still had a difficult time putting bat on ball most of the 2nd half.

    Just quoting OPS+ makes virtually no sense when a player is predominantly an ‘all or nothing’ player like him (Gallo is far worse, of course). He runs into a pitch every once in awhile and hits the long ball, I don’t see how that really helps a team win in the long run (Stanton, for about as streaky as anyone can be, does stay hot, that’s a far cry from jacking one out every 20 ABs and K’s 1/3 to 1/2 of the rest of the time).

    He is awful behind the plate as well, the knee on the ground stance just makes it even tougher for him to properly block pitches or throw runners out-Cone has said that numerous times.

    I have no control over what the Yankees do, if they keep him, they keep him but if it’s my vote it’s ‘addition by subtraction’. He’s not lazy, he’s not fat, he clearly does care, he just (in my mind) stinks at this point in his career and is unlikely to improve.

  10. The problem with Gary’s offense is that he has a wild, flailing swing and fails to adjust it. Most of the time that swing misses the ball. Occasionally it hits the ball and it goes over the fence. We have too many of those types of hitters on the team (see also, Gallo).

  11. H. Avis

    I think Carson Kelly could be the Yankees best move to solve their catching problem. He’s good defensively and has a decent bat with some power.

    • Jim Beam

      And what makes you think AZ is even remotely interested in trading him?

      • H. Avis

        Not saying a trade will happen. IMHO, he seems to be one of the few reasonably good catchers the Yankees should try to acquire – never know.

      • topchuckie

        Dalton Varsho.

  12. Anthony Rizzeddardo

    No it won’t, Derek. A tree stump or fire hydrant would do just fine and could actually block a ball. Gary is lazy, unwilling to learn, calls a bad game, can’t move behind the plate with his dog peeing stance and he only hits .200. The great thing about Jorgie Posada is he could hit 25-30 dingers but he also hit .280. And that .280 was the lowest on a team where most hit over .300. Guys used to take pride in hitting .300. Now they get a cookie and pat on the back if they hit .200. I’d rather have a good defensive catcher who is a leader and can call a good game than Gary. The fact that Cole and Kluber wouldn’t throw to him should tell you everything you need to know. We need to get leaner, quicker, more athletic and hit for contact and a fat lazy catcher who hits .200 just doesn’t fit.

    • Dirk Diggler

      Yeah, you’re a racist with that lazy trope. Dude has worked hard and they should have never let Tony Pena go.

    • Stan

      This is the correct answer.

    • The fact that Cole and Kluber think they are entitled to pick a cat her says more about them than is does about Sanchez. Apart from that., most of what you wrote isn’t worth the time it would take to respond.

  13. Richard K

    I really like “The Original Drew’s” proposal above. Here’s another. Wilson Contreras’ name has been bandied about here and there, with most saying that Chicago would have no reason to trade him for Sanchez. But if you propose sending Sanchez with some decent prospects perhaps you can grab their interest. Maybe spin it like this. You get prospects for your farm system and can flip Sanchez for additional prospects or salary relief. The best of both worlds. You’d only be getting Contreras for one year of control, but if his fellow countrymen (Gleybar and Odor) are still around (I know that’s a big if) perhaps he enjoys it and is willing to sign an extension. This provided of course that the Yankees like what they see too. It does give them the year to look him over and see what kind of fit he is. Cole opts to to pitch to Higgy. Perhaps not so much because of what Higgy brings to the table, but what Sanchez doesn’t. It’s crazy to have your staff ace uncomfortable pitching to your first string catcher. This could address that. I know. MTPS.

    • Eh, Wilson Contreras has been a big disappointment for the Cubs. Let’s try to get better, rather than move sideways. I vote for Carson Kelly.

      • The Original Drew

        Kelly is the reasonable target. He is very good defensively and while he might be a step down from Sanchez offensively, he doesn’t strike out as often and that is something the offense is sorely needing. He is also 27 years old, and the Diamondbacks are many years from contention. He is of no use to them. Get some future pieces for him and go from there.

        And I want it to be on the record that I absolutely love Gary Sanchez, I really do. That being said, if the Yankees are keeping Gallo, there is no way that the offense can support a 4th low batting average, high strikeout, high power bat. The offense needs to be diversified, and Stanton, Judge, and Gallo don’t seem to going anywhere, Gary unfortunately is the odd man out.

      • Jim Beam

        Why would AZ trade Kelly?

        • The Original Drew

          Because they are terrible and Kelly is already 27 years old. He’s better use to them as a trade chip and wouldn’t be apart of the next good Diamondbacks team.

  14. Bubba Crosby's Left Cleat

    Sanchez had a .273 OBP in the second half. He had ONE hot month, please dissect his season more granularly. He was unplayable for months and had one good month, he only had 2 months of 100 OPS+

    I would rather a guy hit for a .700 OPS all season than a .500 OPS for most of it with a hot month.

    • Derek

      He’s had a 99 wRC+ since 2018. I’m not going to look at month-by-month splits for one season. The body of work says that’s what he is. Not every player performs consistently at their talent level.

      • Bubba Crosby's Left Cleat

        OK well then you’re going to get 3-4 month streaks of .270 OBP while somehow claiming its hard to replace that. There is value in a guy being consistent all season instead of giving you 2 great months and 4 below replacement level.

        • Derek

          Tell me who’s a consistent catcher who’s readily available for the Yankees to get.

          • Bubba Crosby's Left Cleat

            I didn’t say that there is a huge catching market, but Sanchez is worse than the sum of his parts, every single year. What I’m saying is the catching market is deeper than you’re giving it credit for, because guys lower than Gary on that list *are better everyday options than him, because they hit more consistently, and because he also can’t catch the ball.

            Christian Vazquez is one spot below Sanchez on the list – he lacks any really great months, but outside of a slow start, he also lacks any terrible months. Wouldn’t the Yankees have been better off with a guy who hits for a .310 OBP every month in the catcher spot? Very possibly! The idea that horribly streaky guys have the same value as consistent players doesn’t really track.

            Vazquez on your list is a downgrade, but I’m not actually sure he’s a worse player (ignoring the defense). That’s sort of what I’m saying. Gary is not a 99 wRC hitter. He’s a much, much worse hitter who occasionally has a few good months. Since the end of 2019 Sanchez has 3 months with an OBP above .300 – its not a few months of inconsistency. OBP > SLG, not every number in an OPS is created equal.

    • You know, the .273 OBP you cite is pretty close to the .299 OBP Derek cited for Gary’s last 4 years. Gary’s cold streaks are the norm here. No need to get more granular.

  15. The Original Drew

    My trade proposal sucks but I think going all out for Carson Kelly would be the move I would go for if indeed replacing Sanchez is on the agenda.

    Trading Sanchez to Miami where they are desperate for any type of offense from the position would be welcome.

    • Dani

      I can get behind the idea of trading for Kelly. I’d also add Jacob Stallings to the list of catchers to keep an eye on. Respectable bat, excellent D and under team control for 3 more years.

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