With one season left before free agency, the Yankees made the decision to stop betting on Gary Sánchez’s potential. The once star catcher, recently mired in a seemingly endless series of injuries and streakiness, will now head to the Minnesota Twins and try to recapture the hitting chops he showed upon debuting in the league.
It’s a somewhat sad ending for one of the former faces of the Baby Bombers. Ultimately, his inconsistent hitting and shaky defense behind the plate means that the Yankees are now confident they can find similar or better production elsewhere. Still, his earlier days — and the mammoth home runs he could launch even while mired in hideous slumps— remain a highlight of recent team history.
Sánchez was an international signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2009. From the start, he was considered one of the team’s top 10 prospects, though there were questions from the start about his defensive ability as a catcher (notwithstanding his throwing arm, which was always a cannon).
He rose through the minor leagues, persistently ranked in the top 100 prospects in baseball, before getting an extremely brief cup of coffee with the Yankees at the end of the 2015 season. He lost out out on breaking camp with the team in 2016 due to a brutal spring training, so he wasn’t around to stay until August of that season. But when he did finally get promoted to stay, that extra time seemed worth it — there was nothing he couldn’t hit.
Stunningly, he put up a 3.1 fWAR across only 53 games played in 2016, with 20 home runs and .299/.376/.657 batting line. Despite his late debut, he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. The Yankees’ catcher of the future had arrived.
The 2017 season was another success on offense. He was named an All-Star, won the Silver Slugger award, and broke the team record for home runs by a catcher in a single season. And while his ability to throw out potential base stealers was impressive, he showed issues with passed balls that would plague him continually, tying for the league lead in that stat.
Unfortunately for Sánchez and the Yankees, he would never reach the peaks of that season again. The 2018 season saw him placed on the injured list more than once with groin problems, and it hampered his performance all year. While he’d hit 18 home runs, his .186 batting average was just untenable. Rumbling about his continued issues on defense grew louder, as did the questions about his work ethic, despite manager Aaron Boone’s repeated assertions that Sánchez was a quietly hard worker.
While there were hopes a healthy offseason would get him back on track, the 2020 shortened season saw the Kraken bottom out. He struck out 36 percent of the time, hit .147, and finished with a 69 wRC+. He was benched in the playoffs, then proceeded to tell the media he didn’t know why, a pretty ridiculous assertion that earned a fairly sharp rebuke from Brian Cashman.
The ice was getting thin, and Sánchez didn’t get himself onto solid land last season either. He wasn’t nearly as bad as 2020, with a 1.5 fWAR, but his inconsistency and failure to tap into the power he showed upon his debut earned him more ire. Before the season, the team brought in catching coach Tanner Swanson largely to try to improve Sánchez’s catching and pitch framing. Sánchez made adjustments behind the plate, but he still spent the 2020 season and the next near the bottom in most advanced catching metrics.
No other recent Yankee except maybe Giancarlo Stanton has been as polarizing as Sánchez was. To some, he was a flash in the pan who needed to be behind the likes of Kyle Higashioka on the depth chart; to others, his potential was still there, despite the injuries and the streakiness. At any rate, the Yankees’ patience obviously ran out.
Considering how he’s been able to hit in the past and knowing that he has his next contract on the line, it wouldn’t be totally surprising to see Sánchez have a bounce-back season in Minnesota, assuming he’s healthy. At any rate, when Minnesota comes to the Bronx, we’ll just have to hope the Kraken doesn’t launch the kind of home runs we all know he’s capable of.