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The Gary Sánchez saga and the sands of time

The once-divisive Yankees catcher remains forgotten and unsigned as spring training approaches.

Minnesota Twins v Chicago White Sox Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

As the start of the 2023 season looms on the horizon, teams are relatively close to finalizing the general makeup of their rosters. Somewhat surprisingly, former Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez remains without a team as spring training approaches. He’s now a full season removed from his time in pinstripes, and is on the heels of a season in Minnesota that did little to improve his resume. Still, I hope that his story isn’t mostly over, and I don’t think it is. For whatever reason, I have always found his career arc compelling, and I could talk about it forever. As he goes unsigned, I think it only adds to the narrative that’s formed around him.

This past season, to put it simply, wasn’t very good for Sánchez. Interestingly, he actually got the second-most plate appearances he’s ever had in a season (471), but he managed just a 89 wRC+ in them (.205/.282/.377). This isn’t nearly good enough for someone who should probably be spending the majority of his time as a designated hitter.

Even his typical production in the power department didn’t quite show up. Sánchez hit an uncharacteristically low 16 home runs, and posted the lowest slugging percentage of his career, .377, outside of the shortened 2020 season. He turned 30 in December, and at this point is pretty much cemented as the player that he is. But I don’t think he’s pre-determined as to what degree he can be that player. I think he both deserves, and likely will get some kind of opportunity somewhere (beyond merely pairing with Francisco Mejia on Team Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic).

Realistically, his only saving grace is that he can still hit the ball tremendously hard. His big-time power has always been his main selling point, and Sánchez hasn’t totally lost that.

The Baseball Savant sliders are not the be-all/end-all, but it gives a good idea of what a guy’s working with. It’s very difficult to find that kind of top-end ability in this realm, and even more difficult to teach it. Ben Clemens wrote a great piece detailing how difficult it is for a player to change their top-end exit velocity numbers, and Sánchez always finds himself in the upper echelon in regard to these figures. When you can do something that very few people are even capable of doing, it’s at least worth exploring.

To me, even more intriguing than Sánchez’s skillset on its own, or his recent fall from grace, is the way it all comes together and shapes the way we see him. To be fair, I’m not even really saying he’s good right now, or that he will be in the future, but that’s almost besides the point.

This is something that I use often to help contextualize the perception of a handful of guys around the league, and I think Sánchez is a prime example of it. That being said, I think our current view of him is burdened by the high expectations and standards he established for himself, and that we all believed and reinforced. There is nothing wrong with this on either end, but it does certainly skew how we often perceive high-potential players who might just be fine.

Sánchez exploded on the scene in 2016, and was the best offensive catcher in the sport in ‘17. It’s hard to top that, and he’s never really come close since. His 2019-21 seemed like the end of the world to some, and he wasn’t great, but it still wasn’t all that bad. He was basically a league-average hitter at the catcher position, who still had that game-changing pop in his bat. Is it what we all wanted and expected out of Sánchez? No, but I think it’s absolutely worth a spot on a team out there.

Perhaps Gary Sánchez has truly fallen even further from that point after his 2022 campaign with the Twins; the “change of scenery” theory did not pass muster. But, projections still have some faith in a rebound, and as an optimist and Sánchez apologist, I agree (though a reunion with the Yankees, who greatly value catcher defense, is not particularly likely).

I don’t think that Sánchez will ever approach the highs that he briefly and gloriously did with the Yankees, or that we thought he would continue to reach. But the raw talent is still there at least in part, and I think his perception has been hurt by how strong his career started. I wouldn’t be that surprised if he went and hit 30 homers with the Rockies, or something like that.