If one had to pick the single most consequential move of the Yankees offseason, it’d almost certainly be the mid-March trade with the Minnesota Twins. The deal that sent Gio Urshela and Gary Sánchez to Minnesota for the services of Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Ben Rortvedt spoke volumes not only by the departures and arrivals but also by what they meant.
It became clear that the Yankees were going to prioritize defense at the catcher production, that the team wasn’t satisfied with the overall production at third base, and perhaps most importantly, that it wouldn’t be going after a shortstop. Acquiring Kiner-Falefa doesn’t prevent you from going after the big names in the shortstop market, but the organization indicated that IKF was going to be the shortstop for the 2022 season
With a third of the season through, and the Yankees set to face the Minnesota Twins for the first time in 2022, it’s as good a time as any to address how the former Yankees are doing. The Twins had arguably the most disappointing 2021 campaign in baseball, and it entered this season in what felt like a state of limbo.
On one hand, the team dealt star third baseman Josh Donaldson and had already exchanged José Berrios for prospects from Toronto at the 2021 trade deadline, on the other, it took advantage of a market opportunity to sign Carlos Correa to a rich, but short-term deal.
The White Sox were the clear division favorites, but as of now, the Twins are the ones holding a comfortable lead in the AL Central ahead of both the White Sox and Guardians (who are actually half a game up on Chicago).
What part if any are Gio Urshela and Gary Sánchez playing in this Twins resurgence?
2022 Gary Sánchez
43 G, .229/.289/.446, 7 HR, 27 RBI, 0.6 bWAR
The Yankees made a conscious decision to prioritize defense at the catcher position in 2022. That’s not a tough decision when your offense-first catcher has an OPS+ of 90 over the last two seasons. Below league-average production from a player whose sole calling card is his bat will simply not fly.
The decision would’ve been very different had Sánchez sustained the baseline for offensive performance that he established over his first two seasons, but the former Yankee simply hadn’t and became way too streaky to justify the poor defense behind the dish in every facet.
The question then becomes: What has changed about Sánchez in 2022? Not much, really.
Since the Twins already had Ryan Jeffers in tow, they’ve only asked Sánchez to start 23 of their 56 games behind the plate, as he’s altered between DH duty, catching, and rest days. At bat, he is putting up very similar numbers to what he did in 2021, but the big difference is the offensive environment.
Take a look at this table:
Sánchez Table 1
Hitting is down and as a result, Sánchez's production is more valuable even if he isn’t necessarily doing that much more.
Another aspect to point out is that walk and strikeout rates are two stats that tend to stabilize rather quickly, and Sánchez is showing a drastic change with one of them.
Sánchez Table 2
While the strikeout rate is only slightly high, Sánchez is having by far the worst walk rate of his career. His previous low was 7.6 in 2017, and he’s routinely sat above 10 percent since then.
The Twins are having a successful season and Sánchez is doing an adequate job of replacing Mitch Garver’s bat after flipping him to Texas for Ronny Hernandez and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Nonetheless, Sánchez needs to up that walk rate.
A hitter of Sánchez's profile with a batting average that’s going to sit in the low-.200s and rely solely on power to be an effective bat can’t afford to have a below league-average walk rate. Eventually, that’s going to come back to bite him.
But Gary is only half of the trade.
2022 Gio Urshela
49 G, .268/.326/.396, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 0.6 bWAR
It’s rare in Major League Baseball when you see a trade that involves position players who will directly be each other’s replacement. Because of the nature of this deal, you can’t address either player without the other, context is a big part of it, and there are many aspects to discuss.
Urshela came over from Cleveland and Toronto to New York as a glove-first third baseman with a questionable bat. Out of nowhere, he had a breakout season in 2019, slugging .534 at the hot corner for the Yankees. A few years later, Urshela is enjoying moderate success with the bat in Minnesota — more than he did in Cleveland anyway, but the glovework hasn’t really been there. His -5 Outs Above Average put him in MLB’s bottom third percentile.
Urshela has the same OPS+ as Josh Donaldson in 2022 (114), but the former Yankee only has 0.6 bWAR, lower than half of Donaldson’s 1.4, and the current Yankee is much likelier to improve his production with the bat (which has been underwhelming and further enlarges this gap). More than sustaining this level of offensive production, Urshela needs to play better defense at third, which he’s proven he can early in his career.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before the season that team felt like it was upgrading at third base on both sides (offensively and defensively), and you can’t argue with that statement right now. As John recently outlined, the fielding has been terrific, and even in Donaldson’s worst season with the bat since 2012, he remains an above-average hitter.
Meanwhile, Gio Urshela has been another adequate replacement for a fraction of the cost, which helped the Twins reinvest their money and take advantage of the Correa opportunity. So in some ways, this has been a win-win scenario.
Neither player that the Yankees dealt is having a breakout season to open eyes, but they’re enjoying productive campaigns and are a part of what’s certainly a winning ballclub.