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.
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.