When the Yankees signed Brian McCann for five years and $85 million on Dec. 2, 2013, it was expected. Like the CC Sabathia signing in 2008 and the Jason Giambi signing in 2001, everyone knew it was going to happen. The Yankees had played with a revolving door at catcher since Jorge Posada’s retirement and after grinding through a year with Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart and Austin Romine, the they weren’t going to do that again. Add in that the Yankees had missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and the Red Sox had won the World Series and it made it even more of a sure-thing.
The Yankees didn’t need the career .277/.350/.473 hitting 30-year-old McCann at the time. But there have been a lot of times when the Yankees didn’t need a a free-agent star and got him anyway. They had a 28-year-old Cervelli, 25-year-old Romine, 22-year-old John Ryan Murphy and 21-year-old Gary Sanchez. McCann would just block their paths to the majors and be another high-paid player nearing the wrong side of 30 in the long list of high-paid players on the wrong side of 30 that have defined the Yankees over the last decade-plus. The Yankees didn’t need Brian McCann and the $85 million would be better spent elsewhere (ROBINSON CANO, cough, cough), but they signed him anyway.
When rumors surfaced leading up to the trade deadline that the Yankees could move McCann back to his former team in the Braves and all it would take is eating a combined $10 million of his remaining $34 million over the next two years, I may or may not have danced around the room, and I don’t dance. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen though I’m holding out hope it still might this season or in the offseason. Fortunately, McCann’s presence and contract didn’t stop Brian Cashman from calling up Gary Sanchez for good.
Sanchez was hitting .282/.339/.468 with 10 home runs and 50 RBIs in Triple-A at the time of his call-up and he had been a .275/.339.460 hitter in seven minor league seasons. He had gone hitless in two at-bats for the Yankees in 2015 and went 0-for-4 in the only game he had played in this season back on May 13. He went 1-for-4 with two strikeout and a run in his return on Aug. 3. He got hit first career extra-base hit and multi-hit game the next night against the Mets going 2-for-4. The following night he picked up his first career RBI with a pair against the Indians. But after the next two games, he was hitting a typical rookie-struggling-in-the-majors .217/.250/.348 after his first game in Boston. The next game, well, that’s when everything changed.
Sanchez went 4-for-5 with a home run, which was longest home run I have ever seen hit to straightaway center at Fenway as it hit the backwall of the park and might have hit Jillian’s if the wall hadn’t been there. Since that Aug. 10 game when Sanchez hit the mammoth home run, he’s hitting .469/.536/1.082 with nine home runs and 17 RBIs. He’s become a combination of 1998 Shane Spencer and 2007 Shelley Duncan except he’s 23, a catcher and the face of the franchise and not a career minor leaguer catching lightning in a bottle for a month.
This 13-game run has become laughable from an “I can’t believe he hit another one” standpoint. Every at-bat of his has been must-watch since his Aug. 3 call-up, but now they have become must-watch in a much different sense. That different sense is Spencer in September 1998 or Tino Martinez in May 2005 (10 home runs in 11 games as a 37-year-old) or Jason Giambi from July 4, 2005 to Aug. 4, 2005 (16 home runs in 26 games a few months after being asked to go to the minors by the Yankees) or A-Rod for all of 2007 (54 home runs) or Duncan from late July on in 2007 (seven home runs as a 27-year-old rookie). Sanchez made straightaway center at Fenway seem as close as the Pesky Pole. He made the seemingly-impossible-to-hit second deck in left field at Yankee Stadium look like the short porch in right, and over the last three days, he turned Safeco Field into Camden Yards with three home runs in 11 at-bats in Seattle.
I keep thinking about how this season could have gone if Sanchez had been here all along (or possibly in earlier seasons) along with other pieces of the future (Luis Severino, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin). Maybe if the Yankees hadn’t wasted four of the six months of the season giving at-bats to dead-weight contracts and sub-.200 hitters they would be closer than five games back for the second wild card. I guess there’s no sense in looking back and wondering “what could have been” with yet another Yankees team, but instead it’s time to look ahead at the future and the future looks as beautiful as Sanchez’s first-inning home run barrage.
Earlier this week, Sanchez tweeted the following:
— Gary Sanchez (@ElGarySanchez) August 20, 2016
Now it’s wishful thinking like Go West to think the Yankees are going to make the playoffs. Maybe if Joe Girardi hadn’t used Anthony Swarzak in two big spots over the last week and the team were now three games back instead of five heading into a three-game weekend series with the Orioles then we could get excited about a playoff berth. I don’t expect Sanchez to continue to put the Yankees on his back and save the season in terms of reaching the postseason. He has already saved the season in terms of giving Yankees fans a reason to watch a current fourth-place team.
Over the last 22 days, Sanchez has become the starting catcher with Brian McCann still on the roster. He has become the Yankees’ No. 3 hitter with Carlos Beltran traded, A-Rod released and Mark Teixeira barely hanging on to his career. He has become a reason to watch the Yankees in a season in which they are going to miss the playoffs for the third time in four years. He has become the face of the franchise for a franchise that has always had one. He has become everything every Yankees fan hoped he would be and more. He has saved the season and the future.