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Gary Sánchez waits once again

After a nice rebound in 2023, the former Baby Bomber is waiting on a suitor again.

San Diego Padres v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Pitchers and catchers reporting is thankfully getting closer by the day. Despite this, a fair number of significant free agents remain unsigned. On the pitching side, a pair of lefties in Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell need a home, while Matt Chapman and Cody Bellinger are waiting elsewhere on the diamond. Of course, a number of smaller scale free agents have been snatched up thus far, but not among them is former Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez.

Sánchez’ debut in 2016 was seismic, but it’s also getting close to a decade ago. The right-handed slugger was shipped to Minnesota in the deal that brought Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa to the Bronx. He had one more year until hitting the open market, after a few down seasons in a row. His year with the Twins was not a particularly convincing one, and he hit free agency as a big ol’ question mark, and waited deep into the offseason (and to Opening Day) to latch on somewhere. It was a bummer of a turn in what has been a complex career arc for Sánchez, something I dove into last offseason as well. This past season only added to the unfolding saga, so I thought I’d update the Sánchez timeline once more.

Eventually, on April 1 of last year, Sánchez signed a minor league deal with the Giants, but would last only a month in the system, and was released without any time on the big league field. The Mets took a flyer on the veteran a week later, where he at least saw a few games of major league action. Another week later, however, he was back on the market. At the end of May, for the third time since Opening Day, The Kraken signed with another club. This time it was with San Diego, where he would finally begin to make some noise.

With the Padres, in just 72 games, Sánchez blasted 19 homers (more than he did in 128 games the year before), with a 115 wRC+ while slashing .218/.292/.500. It’s nothing mind-boggling, but its a pretty productive stat line, and nothing more. And that seems to be where things get weird for Sánchez. After two years of bursting on to the scene, and a few down years (that might not have been quite as bad as they felt), this year emphasizes the idea that he’s probably just fine at this point of his career.

With his best baseball in years now under his belt, I feel better about saying this than I did last year. One way or another, he is still Gary Sánchez, prone to the occasional hard-to-watch slump, and also to hitting baseballs harder than most are ever capable of.

Sánchez was still near the top of the totem pole for max exit velocity, and all of his other quality of contact metrics were in line with what he’s accustomed to. Of note, in his 72 games with San Diego, 63 of them were behind the plate. Now this was, at best, a half-season of catching data, so there’s not a ton of weight to it, but he appeared to do a fine job behind the dish. He was still able to use his big arm to throw out base-stealers, and his framing was above average. All things considered, he had a good year in his limited time.

Let’s look at the bigger picture too, even if it is a bit unrealistic. Since 2016, Sánchez is fifth among all catchers in fWAR, and 12th in wRC+ at 110. Even if you exclude easily his two best seasons in 2016 and ‘17, he is still 11th in fWAR among catchers since 2019. Given the odd trajectory of his career, his fine-to-good moments are overshadowed by his polarizing stat lines, while his down years are magnified for much the same.

As far as his search for a deal goes, it feels hard to believe that no one is willing to take a chance on the hard-hitting 31-year-old. Just this offseason, fellow slugging catcher Mitch Garver got a two-year, $24 million deal with the Mariners. Garver has been a good bit better, but he’s also two years older, will mostly DH anyway, and has only appeared in 100 games once in his career, back in 2018. Heck, even Victor Caratini and Tom Murphy have gotten multi-year deals this offseason.

It is obviously true that trend direction matters a good deal, but allow me to propose a thought experiment. If, say, Jorge Alfaro, a fellow 31-year-old catcher who was on the market, had hit 19 homers in 72 games with a 115 wRC+, it certainly feels as though he would have already signed with a decent deal.

There is, of course, no way to know this sort of thing, just as there’s no way to know what exactly to expect from Gary Sánchez for any given stretch. But, especially after the rebound, it seems fair to say that he’ll provide something. Even if that means an average-ish bat with big time pop that can catch when needed, that doesn’t sound half bad. And I would venture to guess, were that the case, that he’d help whatever team takes the chance, just like he did in San Diego.

Update

The wait is over! The Kraken will ply his trade in Milwaukee this coming season. Best of luck to him.