We New Yorkers are a curious bunch. In a city where 8.6 million people are jammed together, commuting underground amongst crowds and rats, toughness has always been a badge of honor. What we lack in weather and cleanliness, we more than make up for in grit. However, when it comes to the athletes who represent our city, that mettle turns to quick panic and short leashes. The grass is always greener.
Gary Sanchez had a down year in 2018. Plagued by a nagging groin injury and admonished for seemingly entering the season out-of-shape, the young, All-Star catcher put up an abysmal line of .186/.291/.406 with 18 home runs over 89 games. That amounted to a poor 89 wRC+ and 1.4 WAR. For a man nicknamed “the Kraken,” this season was anything but monstrous.
Besides his lack of production, Sanchez found other ways to make himself the source of Yankee fans’ ire this season. Though he’s always been touted for his arm strength and accuracy, his ongoing and costly issues with blocking balls in the dirt haven’t appeared to improve at all. There was also that game in July when he caused an uproar by letting a run score after not hustling after a ball that got away from him, only to follow that up by not hustling to first with two outs in the ninth, losing a chance to tie the game. It ended in a loss and a return to the disabled list for Sanchez.
After that game, Yankee fans were calling for his head. To some degree, the outrage was warranted. The optics of the situation were ugly. Sanchez also ended the season ranked 16th among catchers in WAR (Though PSA’s Tom Krosnowski doubts the merit of that claim). Even though WAR is a cumulative stat and Sanchez missed time with injuries, for a catcher who is trumpeted as a cornerstone of the team’s current and future offense, that won’t do.
When news of a situation in Miami found its way up the coast, it piqued the interest of many New Yorkers. Marlins starting catcher, J.T. Realmuto, announced through his agent, Jeff Berry, that he will not be seeking an extension with the team. As Berry says of Realmuto:
I think he will definitely be wearing a different uniform by the start of spring training. He has informed the Marlins ownership, informed their front office that he’s not going to sign an extension in Miami. From that standpoint, you can keep him for two years or not. It makes sense when you have one of the more valuable trade assets in baseball to move him, period.
This is certainly an interesting situation for anyone who has grown tired of Sanchez behind the plate for the Yankees. Realmuto is arguably the best catcher in baseball. Over the last three seasons, he leads major league catchers with 12.3 WAR. Sanchez sits in fourth on that list with 8.9 WAR. However, that should be taken that with a grain of salt as Realmuto played in 139 more games than Sanchez over that span. For a catcher, 139 games is essentially another season and with Sanchez’ ability, he could definitely top Realmuto with that many more innings under his belt.
If you’re Miami, swapping the two catchers makes a lot of sense. They have an All-Star catcher who wants out and an opportunity to sub in another All-Star catcher who essentially holds the same value. Miami also has an insider in vice president of player development and scouting, Gary Denbo. When Denbo was overseeing the Yankees’ farm system, he was said to be a big fan of Sanchez. It’s not a stretch to think he would put him at the top of his list of replacements.
If you’re the Yankees, however, this deal doesn’t make a lot of sense. The 27-year-old Realmuto made $2.9 million in arbitration in 2018 and is projected to earn $6.1 million next season. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2021. By contrast, Sanchez, who is two years younger than Realmuto, is still under team control for the 2019 season. He is eligible for arbitration in 2020, but won’t become an unrestricted free agent until 2023. That’s a lot of financial breathing room for Brian Cashman.
When you look past the bank accounts, it wouldn’t be a smart baseball deal for the Yankees either. From an offensive standpoint, it’s hard to argue against Sanchez. Even with his down year, he still has a better career line at .252/.333/.515 to Realmuto’s 279/.327/.442.
Sanchez also has legendary power. His career 71 home runs rank him third on the leaderboard of active catchers since 2016, trailing only Salvador Perez (76) and Yasmani Grandal (73). Due to injuries and his late entrance in 2016, Perez and Grandal have played in 131 and 129 more games than Sanchez over that span, respectively. Realmuto ranks sixth on that list with 49 home runs, playing in 197 more games than Sanchez.
Defensively, most would probably assume that Realmuto is superior, but once you look beyond blocking, that’s not the case. Of course, Sanchez leads the league in passed balls. In his 216 career games at catcher, he has allowed an unworldly 40 passed balls and 113 wild pitches. Since the 2016 season, Realmuto has allowed 25 passed balls and 129 wild pitches in 367 games. He has actually allowed four less passed balls in his career than Sanchez has, with more than double the games caught.
Though he struggles at blocking balls in the dirt, Sanchez excels in other ways defensively. His arm strength is well known to any would-be attempted stealers. He has caught 48 players stealing out of 132 attempts, an impressive 36% clip. That rate ranks him 6th among active catchers. Realmuto doesn’t have Sanchez’ arm, but he isn’t far behind at 33%, which lands him 13th on the list.
Sanchez is also an elite pitch framer. According to Statcorner, a website that ranks catcher’s ability to frame, only 11.4% of his pitches caught inside the strike zone are called balls, while he is able to steal 7.7% of pitches outside the zone as strikes. That amounts to Sanchez getting 25 more strikes called than the average catcher. Comparatively, Realmuto has 14.2% of pitches inside the zone called as balls and 6.4% outside the zone called at strikes. He has actually cost his team 114 strikes compared to the average.
Though Realmuto leads all catchers in WAR and would appear to be the best in baseball, the numbers actually point to Sanchez taking the crown. A small sample size, injuries, and a tough 2018 campaign muddy the waters a bit, but the point is that for the Yankees to swap catchers would be like trading an apple for a slightly smaller, older apple.
As much as fans might be sick of Sanchez’s shortcomings, his ability isn’t really in question. Cashman has already stated that he is his catcher moving forward and the whole organization has strong belief in him. Beyond all the current stats, he has incredible potential that is too potent to give up on for the promise of another young talent. For now, Yankee fans just need to be patient and supportive. When it comes to Gary Sanchez, the grass isn’t greener on the other side, it’s greener when you water it.