By Joe Pantorno
It would have been surprising if they had done the contrary, but Wednesday saw the New York Yankees tender a contract to catcher Gary Sanchez — a comforting birthday present for the backstop who turned 28 the same day he was given more time with his club.
Tendering a deal doesn’t necessarily guarantee that Sanchez will be the Yankees’ starting catcher come Opening Day or that he’ll be a Yankee at all — they could always trade him or cut him and eat a fraction of his salary — but the transaction guarantees he won’t be a free agent for a catching-needy team elsewhere to scoop up. The last thing the Yankees need is to see Sanchez experience a resurgence in another city.
For now, though, the book is still very much out on Sanchez who will have a ton to prove in 2021.
The last three years have been nothing short of a nightmare for the Yankees and their once-believed-to-be franchise catcher. Over his last 244 games since the start of the 2018 season, he’s slashing .200/.296/.453 for a meager .748 OPS while striking out once in every three at-bats.
The power is still there, posting 162-game averages of 42 home runs and 103 RBI, but injuries and struggles have only seen him play in just over half (50.2%) of the Yankees’ games during that stretch.
It’s been quite the considerable nosedive after a 2017 season when many believed he possessed the best all-around bat within the Yankees’ ranks, slashing .278/.345/.531 (.876 OPS) with 33 home runs and 90 RBI in 122 games.
That offensive production covered up the fact that his defense was suspect — to say the least — with a below-average fielding percentage, a total fielding runs above average of -16, overwhelming issues keeping the ball in front of him, and an inability to effectively frame pitches.
Without the big bat clicking, Sanchez has quickly become a liability, which had many questioning if he’d be welcomed back by the Yankees after batting .147 in 49 games during the shortened 2020 season. Especially because the free-agent market features the best catcher in baseball in JT Realmuto and another All-Star in James McCann. The Yankees have also been linked to 38-year-old veteran catcher, Yadier Molina, in recent days.
Officially bringing Sanchez back will likely slow the rumor mill down just a bit, but if he has a 2021 season that resembles anything like the past three, his time in the Bronx will be up sooner rather than later.