The New York Yankees roster has plenty of opportunities for player movement this offseason. Some of those moves undoubtedly concern Yankees fans while others are the sort of “it’s the offseason” Yankees movement that has, by now, become rote for those same fans. Then there is the possible movement of Gary Sánchez and a fanbase that really has no idea what to think at this point. Sánchez is stuck in that nether world of his past greatness clashing with his most recent results. As he has quickly found out, for the majority of Yankees fans what you did yesterday carries far more weight than what you did two days before that.
To say that the former top Yankees catcher is a polarizing figure in New York would be an understatement. Since his breakout in 2016, Sánchez has been the true definition of a love him or hate him player. In 2016 he was the it player for the Bronx Bombers thanks to his 20 home runs in only 229 plate appearances. In 2017 and 2019 he was an integral part of Yankees teams that made it to the American League Championship Series before faltering. 2018 and 2020 were different stories altogether as his generally poor play resulted in him becoming something of a pariah on New York’s favorite team.
The issues with Sánchez aren’t easily diagnosed, and in some cases, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with his approach. We’re talking about a catcher who put up seasons with DRC+’s of 141, 127, and 121. He got to such lofty numbers by cranking plenty of home runs and getting on base at a decent clip. Add in surprisingly good defense and he put up 2.1, 4.9, and 2.4 WARP in those respective seasons. The sort of player who Sánchez was in ‘16, ‘17, and ‘19 is the sort of catcher that teams hope to cultivate but rarely are able to in actuality.
The first hint of issues with Sánchez’s makeup actually cropped up in 2017. There were grumblings about his lack of hustle and that he was letting his body go. At the time I tossed the hustle criticisms into the woodpile of “players don’t actually have to hustle every play and maybe let’s slow up on the racism a bit.” The questions about Sánchez’s fitness also were of little concern to me because as long as he kept hitting bombs, getting on base pretty frequently, and working on maintaining his defense the state of his gut was irrelevant.
Then 2018 happened, and though he rebounded in 2019, 2020 ended up being the worst year of Sánchez’s relatively young career. In 2018 his DRC+ slipped all the way to 94, then two seasons later it fell even further to 84. He was still hitting dingers, 18 in 374 plate appearances in 2018 and then 10 in 178 times at the dish in 2020. However, his ability to make contact took a severe nosedive following 2017. The Dominican Republic native put up consecutive batting averages of .186, .232, and .147. He also stopped getting on base, his OBP dropping to a career-low .253 last season. His usual stout defense disappeared, his FRAA first dipped into negative territory in 2018 and it has never recovered.
While all these fluctuations were taking place, Sánchez committed the cardinal sin in Yankees land, he lost the fans. Some of it was deserved for his poor performance, but much of it ignored the injuries he had dealt with or the tribulations of trying to perform at your best when neither your manager nor the front office is willing to go all-in on you. 2020 appears to have been rock bottom for the once all-world Sánchez. He lost his starting catcher job, and when the playoffs came around, he saw limited action, appearing in only three of the Yankees’ seven games.
The question becomes: where do the Yankees and Gary Sánchez go from here? Sánchez has two more years of arbitration eligibility and all signs point to the Yankees preferring to see him in a different uniform in 2021. The only problem with that is there is a likelihood that the Yankees have a hard time finding any suitors willing to take on the $5.7 million the Sánchize is estimated to earn next season. That leaves the Yankees looking at a situation where they either have to non-tender Sánchez and let him go for nothing or deal with a disgruntled and ineffective Sánchez on the roster all season long.
There is a third option, the one where Sánchez makes the changes in his swing that are needed to bring back some of the lost contact and to allow him to get on base more often. With slight improvements to his defense, Sánchez could become a bomb hitting terror in the lineup that he was for his first few seasons in the bigs. For this option to pan out it will take more than just Sánchez putting in the work. Aaron Boone has to believe in his catcher and the fans have to accept him back. If those things don’t happen, it’s likely Sánchez will find himself riding the bench and facing even more derision from harsh Yankees fans.