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Gary Sánchez should benefit from stability in 2021

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A more normal 2021 season should be good for Sánchez.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles - Game One Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Gary Sánchez is a polarizing player, and entering a make-or-break 2021 season, he has a lot to say. The usually-reserved Sánchez was uncharacteristically candid in an interview with ESPN’s Marly Rivera, in which he commented on his poor season, his relationship with the team’s coaching staff, not catching Gerrit Cole, and fans who unfairly and inaccurately call Sánchez “lazy.”

None of it is a bombshell that will damage his relationship with the team, but it’s an uncommon glimpse into what Sánchez thinks about the Yankees. For years, fans, analysts and bloggers alike have shared their thoughts about Sánchez and the Yankees, so finally hearing Sánchez’s side of the story is a surprise. It’s definitely not anything you’d get to hear during a season, particularly one with reduced media access.

It’s key to point out that nowhere in the interview did Sánchez blame anyone else other than himself for his poor 2020 season. He acknowledged his difficult season, and said that the criticism has been deserved. In no way was this a hit piece on the Yankees’ organization or a ploy to get traded.

The most interesting part of Sánchez’s comments center around his relationship with the team’s coaching staff. Sánchez says he was never given an explanation for why he was benched, and suggested that he wanted more of a dialogue with Aaron Boone. Specifically when Sánchez was replaced as Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher, the lack of explanation (rightfully) bothered him:

“Nobody told me or explained anything,” Sánchez said. “I am someone who does not like to cause trouble, so I just let it go. I remained calm, because if Cole decides to choose someone, he knows what he’s doing. But as I said before, I think they could have explained things to me, saying, ‘Look, this is what’s going on.’ And as a man, I would have understood it.”

This isn’t unlike what Jorge Posada once said about Joe Girardi, that there was a lack of communication regarding playing time decisions. By contrast, this is supposed to be one of Boone’s strong suits. More communication and clarity moving forward on Sánchez’s role would be beneficial for the player.

Sánchez also discussed the constant turnover at the team’s catching instructor position. Since coming up with the Yankees in 2016, Sánchez has had three different catching instructors, who have all tried different ways to “fix” Sánchez. Regarding the current coach, Tanner Swanson, Sánchez didn’t seem too pleased with the new “one-knee down” catching stance he implemented.

As Sánchez says in the piece, consistency is key for a catcher and his instructor. One year, Sánchez was working on his blocking. The next, he was focusing on framing. The next, he had his knee in the dirt. He called the 2020 year with Swanson “a year of experimentation” and said that “some things worked and others didn’t.” The metrics back this up – Sánchez got better at framing low strikes, but he took a step back at framing other pitches and gave up more passed balls.

Moving forward, stability will be key for Sánchez on this end. It’s not great for a player to be taught new things each year that constantly contradict what he was taught just one year prior. Whatever way the team wants to work on Sánchez’s defense, they should find one approach and stick with it instead of constantly jockeying him around. He’s 28-years-old and entering his sixth year with the Yankees – he’s not going to suddenly become one of the Molina brothers behind the plate. However, consistent coaching could help him make improvements, like he points out happened in 2019.

2020 was a strange year for every player from a preparedness perspective, but Sánchez was adamant that he was not “lazy.” If anything, all that work with different coaches should serve as proof of that:

“I just don’t understand that criticism,” Sánchez said. “The results were not there; that is true. But it was never due to lack of work.”

Although Sánchez’s 2020 season was abysmal, it also represented just 49 games and 178 plate appearances. That could just be an otherwise-normal two-month slump in a six-month season. Sánchez’s track record shows one of the game’s best-hitting catchers. If 2021 is another lost season, it’s time to move on from Sánchez. But, if he rebounds, the Yankees will have an All-Star catcher under team control and a weapon in the lineup.

To make sure that second outcome is the one that comes to fruition, the Yankees owe Sánchez the best possible conditions for success. Clear communication regarding playing time and a consistent plan to work on his defense and hitting aren’t too much to ask from the team if it’ll give the Yankees the best version of Sánchez again. He has to put the work in to bounce back (which he is doing), but he’d benefit from the Yankees being upfront with him ahead of a critical year for his team and MLB future.