When Game Six of the 2019 ALCS ended in Houston, the Yankees were left wondering what more can possibly be done for this team to reach the World Series. After three straight seasons of playoff heartbreak, it’s time for the Yankees to go all out to ensure they can make it over the hump and dominate the 2020 playoffs en route to their 28th World Series title.
It’s expected that the Yankees will be looking to sign a reliable starting pitcher — fingers crossed for Gerrit Cole — but that’s not the only position they can upgrade via free agency and the trade market this offseason. Reliable backup catcher Austin Romine is a free agent and, Gary Sanchez struggled with injuries for the second straight season in 2019. It’s time for the Yankees to consider acquiring another starting catcher, limiting the wear and tear on Sanchez and giving him the opportunity to more consistently do what he does best; drive in runs.
This is not a knock on Romine, who some teams will likely consider a starting catcher on the free agent market. Romine is coming off his best season in New York, but he still ranked 20th in OPS and 21st in wRC+ among catchers with 200 plate appearances last season. He also posted a .327 BABIP in 2019, 38 points higher than his career .289 BABIP, suggesting a bit of good luck. Romine’s always been a fine defensive catcher, but the advanced metrics don’t suggest a standout performer when it comes to pitch framing, blocking, or throwing out runners.
Removing Sanchez from behind the plate on a regular basis could be addition by subtraction defensively for the Yankees should Sanchez’s framing decline continue. Replacing him with a catcher such as, say, free agent Yasmani Grandal could be the difference maker that vaults them over a team like the Houston Astros. Sanchez has a much higher offensive ceiling than Grandal, but bringing in a balanced, defensive stalwart like Grandal would allow the Yankees to take the burden of Sanchez and let him focus on raking at the plate.
There are two negative implications to consider if the Yankees decide to target a starting catcher this offseason. Much of Sanchez’s value comes from his ability to produce spurts of elite offensive production at a position that’s weak offensively. Would he lose his value as a semi-permanent DH? Not necessarily. The Yankees ranked 24th in MLB with a -0.3 WAR at the DH position in 2019, their lowest ranking at any position.
It’s hard to imagine Sanchez not producing at a high level if he’s given 300+ plate appearances as a DH, rather than the 67 he received in 2019. In fact, in 62 career games as a DH, the right-handed slugger owns a .540 slugging, a significant improvement over his .515 slugging in 302 games as a catcher. In 2019 alone, Sanchez slashed .271/.358/.661 in 15 games as a DH and .226/.310/.506 in 88 games as a catcher. Small sample size cavaets apply, but there’s still reason to believe Sanchez’s offensive potential could become fully unlocked if Sanchez only caught occasionally.
The second implication to consider is the Yankees’ reliance on the DH position to spread out their excessive depth and give much-needed rest to certain players. Giancarlo Stanton figures to be the Yankees’ primary DH next season, but if he can play a significant portion of his games in left field, a not overly-demanding position in New York, the Yankees can juggle DH at-bats between him and Sanchez. They’ll have to find room for Miguel Andujar as well, but the defensive versatility of DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres gives the Yankees a lot of flexibility in terms of making the lineup work.
Grandal and Robinson Chirinos are the two most notable options on the free agent market, but catchers like Tom Murphy, Carson Kelly, and Victor Caratini could also be intriguing trade candidates after strong 2019 seasons. If the Yankees choose not to re-sign a player like Didi Gregorius, or fail to land a big fish like Gerrit Cole, it could greatly benefit them to allocate that money towards a lucrative three-year deal for Grandal instead, or to target another catcher in trade. The Yankees have one of the league’s best catchers in Gary Sanchez, but in order for him to become one of the league’s best offensive players, regardless of position, it’s time to acquire a player who can don the tools of ignorance every day behind the plate.