Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Gary Sánchez might be the most polarizing Yankee not named Giancarlo Stanton. He's a slugging wunderkind but went so cold both at the plate and behind it during the Postseason that he's sparked public debate over whether he should be in pinstripes next year.
But if GM Brian Cashman's comments Thursday are any indication, Sánchez isn't going anywhere. Cashman, a longtime defender of Sánchez, says the 26-year-old is a fixture who is "part of the solution" in Yankeeland.
"I thought Gary Sánchez had a great season, obviously outside of the injuries," Cashman said during his season wrap-up press conference at Yankee Stadium.
"Obviously, on the offensive side, he didn't swing the bat as much as he's capable of (in the Postseason), but he's one of the biggest difference makers at that position in the game," Cashman added. "And so I think Gary has been a big plus for us and one of the reasons why we've been able to excel."
Even with Sánchez's Postseason flop so fresh, it's hard to see a path to a Sánchez-less battery in the Bronx. He's a remarkable hitter and the Yankees have long loved the idea of generating elite offense from their catcher, so they seem unlikely to switch to a defense-first backstop, even with all the other elite hitters in their lineup.
And even with glaring moments in October - Sánchez had three passed balls in nine Postseason games and Yankee pitchers threw six wild pitches - the club seems comfortable with the improvements Sánchez has made on defense and manager Aaron Boone routinely backs Sánchez when questions about his catching arise.
The Yankees aren't the only ones. An executive from a competing club opined that Sánchez "made solid strides this season" on defense.
"Aaron's belief in him, privately and especially publicly, I feel, have had great impact," the executive added.
Of course, Sánchez's main currency is his bat. During the regular season, he blasted 34 home runs in only 396 at-bats and finished with an .841 OPS. He led all MLB catchers in home runs and broke his own Yankee record for homers by a backstop in a single season.
He is one of just four catchers ever to have multiple 30-homer seasons at age-26 or younger. The others? Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza and Rudy York.
And his pure power is dazzling. Sánchez tied Pete Alonso, the MLB home run leader, with 19 home runs clocked at least 110 miles per hour by MLB's Statcast, the most in the majors.
But Sánchez batted only .129 this Postseason with one homer, three RBI and a .476 OPS. He was 4-for-31 with 16 strikeouts.
When he struggled behind the plate in the playoffs, plenty of folks forgot that he improved on some dismal defensive numbers during the regular season.
In 2017, Sánchez led the AL with 16 passed balls in 104 games. A year later, he had 18 passed balls in only 76 games, also worst in the league. But he trimmed that number to seven passed balls in 90 games this season.
The old defensive nightmares came flooding back against the Astros when he faltered several times. Still, Cashman gave Sánchez credit for the way the catcher guided the pitching staff, especially against Houston. The Yanks had a 3.13 ERA and held the Astros hitters to a .179 average in the series. In six games, the mighty Astros scored only 22 runs, one more than the Yankees.
"Listen, what we did in terms of compressing their offense was as much to do with our pitchers as Gary Sánchez," Cashman said. "Gary's a big part of that. He follows the game plan. He executes the game plan.
"We didn't lose this series because of pitching. And when I say our pitching did a great job during that series, Gary is a big part of the reason why. How he called those games and how he kept changing the signs, obviously, to try to make sure that we're protecting our pitch selections, I just thought he did a remarkable job.
"I don't think he gets the credit that he's due."
Sánchez could have quieted any noise about his defense with a few timely moonshoots against Houston. He's got to do better behind the plate and, in the Postseason, at it as well.
The Yankees seem determined to find out if he can.