Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
TAMPA, Fla. - A few minutes after one o'clock on Thursday afternoon, a contingent of Yankee bigwigs gathered behind the cage to watch Gary Sanchez's first batting practice of Spring Training.
As they stood there in the sun, Brian Cashman, Aaron Boone, and assistant GM Tim Naehring shared a common thought: Despite Sanchez's terrible season in 2018, the Yankees still truly believe he will be their catcher of the future, and an All-Star caliber hitter for many years. Spring is a time for easy platitudes and flattery, but this one is different. The Yankees really do still think highly of Sanchez.
For one, the front office's actions this offseason backed their rosy public statements supporting Sanchez through his many struggles last season. Teams -- including the Mets -- inquired about trading for the catcher, and Cashman rebuffed every one.
When the Yankees were talking to Miami about catcher J.T. Realmuto, both directly and in three-team scenarios, they said no not only to the Marlins' offer of Realmuto for Sanchez and Miguel Andujar, but would not have considered a straight-up Realmuto for Sanchez swap, according to sources.
That's right: They would not have traded Sanchez for the best catcher in baseball. Part of that is because Sanchez is under club control for two years longer than Realmuto, but the Yankees also see underlying indicators that Sanchez remains a great hitter, even after he batted .186 last year while leading the league in passed balls.
Some Yankee people believe Sanchez still has one of the best swings on the team -- short, compact and powerful. Not much about his mechanics has changed, and he looks to the team's evaluators like the same player who hit 20 home runs in 52 games after arriving from Triple-A in 2016.
The Yankees' internal analytics also show that many of Sanchez's important peripheral numbers - the proprietary stuff that the team uses to assign its true value to players - were solid last year. Defensively, team officials hope Sanchez's offseason shoulder surgery will help his receiving, which will never be great, but should be better than it was last year.
It's not just the Yankees' disinterest in trading Sanchez that proves the team's commitment to him. From the moment Boone took the job, one of his primary responsibilities was to relate to Sanchez better than the old-school Joe Girardi did. He even travelled last winter to the Dominican Republic for dinner with Sanchez and his wife. That's as sure an indication as any of the player's importance to his team; it's not like Boone was flying all over the world to dine with his entire roster.
The outreach appears to have worked, as Sanchez raves about his manager.
"I had a good relationship with Boone since day one," he said through a translator. "We're always talking. It was a great experience [in the Dominican], just having the chance to sit down and talk. We talked about baseball and plans for the future."
That future, the Yankees believe, remains bright. Teams blow a lot of smoke to the media in the early days of Spring Training, when nearly every storyline tends to be positive. But when it comes to Sanchez, the Yanks clearly mean it.