Just three years ago, catcher Gary Sanchez seemed like the next great young catcher in MLB.
His breakout year in 2016 saw the 23-year-old Dominican reach the major leagues and do nothing but rake. Sanchez put the finishing touches on a .299/.376/.657 rookie campaign by adding 20 home runs and a second place finish for Rookie of the Year.
To the absolute joy of Yankee fans everywhere, Sanchez repeated this production the following season. He staunchly asserted himself as New York’s catcher of the future, slugging 33 home runs this time, paired with 90 RBIs. He hit an impressive tune of .278.
There was no matchup more feared among pitchers in the American league that season. Sanchez completely obliterated baseballs. He even earned a befitting nickname — the Kraken, a mythical creature deserving of both fear and respect.
What made his herculean rise to power even more astounding was how quickly the catcher regained his mortality. Sanchez fell from his once untouchable dominance, beginning in 2018.
That year, Sanchez faced two different stints on the disabled list and three different rehab assignments. In total, Sanchez still played in 89 games that season and returned his characteristic power that had initially earned him the praise of New York’s faithful.
The catcher responded with a 2019 comeback that included a career-high in home runs, despite hitting only .232. But the overarching narrative that year soon turned to Sanchez’s defense and how obviously bad it was. Still, offensive production largely balanced out the catcher’s defensive struggles. Sanchez was still in line to start at catcher for the Yankees in 2020. And he did.
But now, that expectation has grown less clear heading into the 2021 season.
Fans will say what they like about a 60 game season. What little time for batters have to get into a real rhythm. How such a small sample size isn’t a true depiction of their skills at the plate. And yes, there’s evidence to support those manners of thinking. Former MVPs like Christian Yelich and Jose Altuve put up some of their career worst numbers this year, but none of them could compare to the egg laid by Sanchez.
He hit .147 with 10 home runs and 64 strikeouts. He had an on-base percentage of .253. Sanchez ultimately lost his starting job in the 2020 postseason. He led all catchers by committing six errors and tied for second in passed balls. And that still excludes his -4 defensive runs saved, among the worst of any full-time MLB catcher.
Still, Sanchez still holds tremendous value if he can remain healthy next season. The Yankees have been transparent in announcing that they will hear trade offers on Sanchez this offseason. It’s an potentially interesting strategy for the Bronx Bombers, who have three major options under this approach. They could seek a catcher as a return in a trade, go full-support behind Kyle Higashioka (their current Opening Day catcher) or sign a player from the free agent market to fill the void.
For readers at the Game Haus, here are three potential trades New York could field for Sanchez. Each scenario falls into at least one of the three categories outlined above. What is most likely to occur will depend on the course of action the Yankees’ front office decides they are most comfortable pursuing.
Steve Cohen Makes A Subway Splash
New York Mets receive C Gary Sanchez
New York Yankees receive C Francisco Alvarez and OF/1B JD Davis
If there is one team that unquestionably wants to win right now, it’s the New York Mets. In the first press conference following the successful sale of the team, new owner Steve Cohen said, “If I don’t win the World Series in the next 3-5 years, and I’d like to make it sooner, I would consider that slightly disappointing.”
For a franchise that has been win-starved over the past several decades, acquiring Sanchez would be a remarkable first step. New York has won the NL East title just twice since the year 2000, despite owning lineups loaded with imposing hitters. Sanchez fits their brand of high production and low average baseball remarkably well, making the trade logical at face value.
The return for the Yankees moves the Mets’ top catching prospect across town, though he’ll still need a few seasons of minor league development. With reinforcements waiting in the minors, New York can fully back Higashioka and his elite level of defense. His hitting would hope to come along with consistent playing time.
But a peak Gary Sanchez requires more from the Mets than a top catching prospect alone. Davis is an interesting case — he was traded to the Mets in 2019, which coincided with his best season at the plate.
He’s a player without a position who has split time in the outfield and corner infield spots. Davis’s defense is definitely on par with what Sanchez brings to the table. The righthanded slugger limped to a disheartening -20 defensive runs saved in his first season with the Mets and accrued -9 this year. But another hitter behind Luke Voit and Giancarlo Stanton should be welcome. The Yanks have dealt with a plethora of injuries in the past few seasons which Davis could help traverse if needed.
This would be a risky trade for both clubs. But if everything goes according to plan, this might be the fairest trade with regard to total player value.
The Kraken Goes Mile-High
Sanchez provides an immediate upgrade at the position and avoids serious competition for a starting job. That kind of security could put Sanchez’s mind at ease behind the plate. Plus, Colorado holds the perfect environment for a hit-first catcher. After years inside the grind of the AL East, Sanchez would likely benefit from matchups against unfamiliar pitching arms.
The interesting part of this trade is what the Yankees might be able to net in exchange for the backstop. Gray has seen better days in Colorado but won at least 10 games in the four season pre-dating 2020. He also owns a high ERA that some will attribute to his time at Coors Field, a noted adversary for pitchers. In New York, Gray can get the mentorship he desperately needs.
It’s possible that Colorado sees the Sanchez as an offensive risk, however, and asks for another player besides Sanchez. That could be Frazier, who’s stayed in New York despite a myriad of trade talks; it’s possibly another young Yankee outfielder.
Either way, Frazier checks some major boxes — he’s 26, a right-handed bat to balance out Charlie Blackmon and David Dahl and has performed well in two seasons of limited action. Colorado would readily accept Frazier if they can coax New York to include him.
These moves give Colorado offensive reinforcements while the Yankees receive rotation depth and a versatile infield bat. The departures of J.A. Happ and James Paxton leave the back of the rotation open for replacements, hopefully filled by Gray. Should DJ LeMahieu choose to sign elsewhere, McMahon slots at first or second base pretty easily. With Colorado’s depth in the middle infield, the losing McMahon wouldn’t be that painful.
This flurry of players into Colorado still doesn’t create a winning season for the Rockies in 2021, unfortunately. GM Jeff Bridich would look to extend Sanchez on a long-term contract, with hopes of acquiring some solid pitching in the next few seasons.
City of Angels Adds Another Star
This one might be a little out there, but the LA Angels need plenty of things. Not the least of which should include a reliable second catcher for 2021.
Max Stassi performed admirably at the plate for LA last year when he hit .278 with 20 RBIs over a collective 31 games. Behind Stassi, however, the only other rostered catcher is Anthony Bemboom. And he owns a lifetime batting average of .167 with less than 50 games in the major leagues.
Sanchez assuredly holds more experience than either prospective Angels catcher right now. Sanchez could also split time at DH with Shohei Ohtani next season, after Albert Pujols comes off LA’s books. Seeing a stable presence behind the plate might also help the Angels’ pitching staff, which has a yearly seat reserved on baseball’s struggle bus.
The Yankees own plenty of young arms, and know that they all can’t project into their starting rotation. Gil is already on the New York’s 40-man roster but did lose an entire year of development in 2020. But he’s also 21, and the Angels are in desperate need of arms to weather the powerhouse American League West. Provided he can progress at the rate LA is expecting, Gil would be an easy starter to pencil-in for 2022.
This deal doesn’t solve all of the Yankees’ problems, the most obvious being a catcher to back up Higashioka. In this scenario, New York has to sign one of the free agents on the market. The Yanks have publicly committed to staying below the luxury tax threshold next season if they can. Which is why this move might be less likely than some other trade destinations.
But to offset a couple of blue-chip Yankees prospects, the Angels could return two of their own in this deal.
Yan is a major league-ready lefthander that fills Paxton’s current rotation slot. Maitan could similarly replace LeMahieu a few years down the road, once he acquires some more minor league experience. Both young players could sweeten the deal enough to give Brian Cashman reason for serious pause.
LA already has a lineup stacked with hitters, making the acquisition of Sanchez kind of unnecessary. And yet, should Angels pitchers find a way to limit the damage from opposing hitters, a juggernaut lineup can becomes a serious asset in the AL West.
The new general manager for the Angels would find a heartfelt embrace from fans should he complete this deal, rather than a firm welcoming handshake. It’s crucial to remember in a year after the baseball’s strangest season in recorded history that anything can still happen.
Even a Mike Trout World Series win.
Featured Image Courtesy of NJ.com.
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