If you told me last year that Gary Sánchez would be viewed as a non-tender candidate in 2020, I would probably think you were crazy. Well, not probably. I would think you were crazy. He was coming off an All-Star campaign in 2019 where he blasted a career-high 34 home runs and logged a 118 OPS+. It was the most homers ever hit by a Yankees catcher in a single season. After a disastrous 2020 campaign, however, Sánchez found himself in an unfortunate situation that left his future with the Yankees a bit hazy.
The Yankees had a decision to make on Wednesday regarding the fate of Sánchez as their catcher. They were presented with two options: they could have non-tendered him, thus making him a free agent; their other choice was to simply tender him a contract for 2021. Spoiler alert: the Yankees made the correct and easy decision to keep him in pinstripes.
Sánchez has not been a fan favorite over the last few years. Some of it was justified, but not all of it. Yes, he had a pitiful season in 2020, and I think only calling it pitiful is being nice. But Sánchez has so much talent that it would have been an awful mistake if New York let him walk, especially at a projected $5.5 million. It might sound like a lot, but in the grand scheme of baseball payrolls — especially the Yankees’ — it’s really not.
We’ve seen bursts of Sánchez’s true abilities from time to time. When he’s seeing the ball well, there’s no wonder why he was nicknamed “The Kraken” by Brian Cashman. He puts himself among the best power hitters in baseball. Unfortunately, it’s Sánchez’s lack of consistency that haunts him the most. He could look like the best catcher in Major League Baseball one week, and then look like he should be playing for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders a few days later.
Now that the Yankees have somewhat established their faith in Sánchez for next year, what does he have to do to fully earn their trust back? Well, it’s obvious that he needs to get on base more often and hit more home runs. Take a look at his 2020 MLB percentile rankings, though, because they’re pretty confusing.
Sánchez’s average exit velocity in 2020 was 91.8 mph, which was in the 89th percentile of the league. The same goes for his elite hard-hit and barrel percentages. Nonetheless, he hit a paltry .147, albeit with 10 homers. We know he can demolish baseballs, but as Erica recently noted, if the ball is hit to a glove, it doesn’t matter (particularly considering his glacial sprint speed). Finding the gaps is something Sánchez will have to work on this offseason, as well as reducing his strikeout rate, which was 36 percent. Yikes!
Sánchez’s defense wasn’t exactly close to Gold Glove-caliber, either. Baseball Info Solutions noted that he rated four runs below average in his 321 2⁄3 innings behind the plate, and while his framing numbers were better than his disastrous 2019, they fell well short of his 2018. Baseball Prospectus placed him 82nd of the 99 qualifying players in their catcher defensive adjustment rankings. Sánchez needs to work on a decent amount over the winter, but the good thing is that he acknowledges that. In fact, he is slated to play for the Toros del Este starting Friday, which is a team in the Dominican Winter League. The more live pitching he sees, the better.
The Yankees sat Sánchez in four of the five American League Division Series games against the Tampa Bay Rays in favor of Kyle Higashioka. Both of them will be back in 2021 and both will most likely be in the running for that starting slot at catcher. By tendering Sánchez a 2021 contract though, it proves that the team still believes that he’s talented enough to rebound. While Higashioka is a solid player, it would obviously be much better for the Bombers to see Sánchez improve and get back to the Gary he has shown he can be.