Last Chance for Gary Sanchez as a Yankee?

The former face of the Yankees might no longer be one with a bad 2021

This August will be five years since Gary Sanchez hit his first career home on Aug. 10, 2016 in Boston. Five years since he hit 20 home runs in only 229 plate appearances. Five years since his at-bats became must-see TV. Five years since he temporarily became the face of the Yankees.

Over the last three seasons, Sanchez has fallen out of favor with Yankees fans to the point the majority of them have (wrongfully) clamored for Kyle Higashioka to be the team’s starting catcher. And he has fallen out of favor with his manager to the point Aaron Boone gave into the idiotic fans and actually benched Sanchez in the postseason.

Recently, Marly Rivera of ESPN spoke with Sanchez from his home in the Dominican Republic, and he had a lot to say about the state of his career.

On being benched during the playoffs.
“I played the second game in Cleveland, and I played well. Then we went to San Diego, to the bubble … After almost a week without playing, it didn’t go well for me in the second game … I struck out three times, but I felt like I was taking good cuts, good swings. I felt so much better. But I didn’t play.”

If Sanchez doesn’t play in Game 2 against Cleveland, the Yankees’ season ends the next day in Game 3 and they never get to embarrass themselves in the ALDS against Tampa Bay. (So maybe he shouldn’t have played Game 2 in Cleveland because it would have prevented Yankees fans from enduring the worst managerial strategy in team history in Game 2 of the ALDS). It’s over because if Sanchez doesn’t play, they lose Game 2 to Cleveland, and then J.A. Happ starts Game 3 against Cleveland and they would have lost with Happ on the mound.

Sanchez’s two-run home run in the sixth inning of Game 2 in Cleveland gave the Yankees an 8-6 lead. (Zack Britton and Jonathan Loaisiga combined to blow that lead in the seventh.) After Aroldis Chapman did what he does best in the playoffs in the eighth inning by allowing a run, the Yankees trailed 9-8 for the ninth. The Yankees loaded the bases with no outs for Brett Gardner, and he struck out, bringing Sanchez to the plate. Because of Gardner’s inability to put the ball in play and score the tying run, the game was essentially all on Sanchez. If he failed to bring in Giancarlo Stanton from third, the Yankees would no longer be able to tie the game by making an out. Sanchez drove the 1-1 pitch to deep center fielder to tie the game with a sacrifice fly, and after a DJ LeMahieu single, the Yankees took the lead for good.

After that game, Sanchez started and played in one more game in the postseason: Game 2 of the ALDS. To be benched for the remainder of the series and the final three games because of his Game 2 performance (0-for-4, 3 Ks) was completely ridiculous and unfair. If Sanchez was going to be benched, then why wasn’t Aaron Judge (0-for-5, 3 Ks) or Luke Voit (0-for-3, 3 Ks)? Why didn’t Boone bench himself for his irresponsible pitching plan with Happ? The Yankees needed a scapegoat to hide Boone’s disastrous managing and the team’s Game 2 loss and they chose Sanchez. The Yankees have said they don’t believe in hot or cold streaks, though they apparently believe players should be able to hit Tyler Glasnow after six days off.

Boone wasn’t even willing to use Sanchez as a pinch hitter in Games 3 or 5, choosing to go with Mike Ford, who had been sent down to the team’s alternate site in the regular season. Ford wasn’t good enough to be a Yankee in September, but he was good enough to be a Yankee in October and get at-bats over Sanchez (and Clint Frazier).

On speaking with Boone about his postseason benching.
“I asked for and had a respectful and very positive conversation with Aaron Boone. I explained to him that I thought I deserved an explanation for what happened. We had a good conversation, and we talked about all of that and cleared things up.”

Joe Girardi’s tenure at as Yankees manager came to an end because of his supposed lack of communication with the (at the time) young Yankees. In hiring Boone, Brian Cashman and the Yankees praised his communication skills, even though he had never managed or coached at any level of baseball in his life. Our new manager is awesome at this skill he has never actually performed! Well, so much for being a great communicator since Sanchez had to seek him out to talk about being removed from the lineup.

Sanchez has been the Yankees’ starting catcher since August 2016. If he’s suddenly not going to play, he should be told why. It’s bad enough he doesn’t play when Gerrit Cole pitches because the supposed best pitcher in the world needs to coddled, but to bench him outright in games not started by Cole in the postseason does deserve an explanation whether he hit .147/.253/.365 in 49 games or not.

Sanchez has had bad stretches in his career before, like any player. If 2020 hadn’t been a shortened season and he had time to correct himself and enhance his numbers, I’m not writing about this right now and Kyle “Let’s Hope He Hits a Ground Ball Just Past the Outstretched Glove of the Shortstop” Higashioka isn’t starting over him in the playoffs. Sanchez had 178 plate appearances in 2020, which is one-third of his career-high 525 plate appearances from 2017. It’s easy to see how he could have had a bad one-third of a season and then rebounded over another 350 plate appearances. The shortened season needs to be treated as and evaluated on what it was: 37 percent of a standard 162-game season.

Sanchez needs to find a way to stay healthy for an entire season (which can also be said about Judge, Stanton and Aaron Hicks). The reason his career-high for plate appearances in a season is 525 is because he was hurt and missed significant time in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Sanchez needs to produce in 2021, but he also needs to stay healthy.

On being asked to change his defensive setup.
“I understand that the team is trying to help me, and I like that. I know all they want to do is see me improve. But this offseason, I have to focus on trying to recover that form from last year (2019) and be able to mix everything that I improved upon by adding lowering my right knee.”

Since the Yankees’ 2009 season, the farthest they have gone in the postseason was when they lost Game 7 of the ALCS In 2017. Sanchez was their No. 3 hitter that season and during that postseason run. In his most recent game for the Yankees (Game 2 of the 2020 ALDS), Sanchez batted ninth. Could anyone envision Sanchez batting third for the Yankees now? Imagine the shitstorm it would cause if Boone penciled his name into the 3-hole. That’s how far Sanchez has fallen in three calendar years.

I attribute his decline to two things: the first being his inability to lay off breaking balls low and away, and the second being the Yankees’ relentless attempts to try to make him Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate. The Yankees couldn’t just let Sanchez hit 30-plus home runs a season and use his exceptional arm to throw out would-be basestealers. They decided the passed balls were too much! So instead of letting Sanchez be the player they gave $3 million to as a 17-year-old and who climbed to the majors and set historical home run records upon reaching the majors, they had to screw him up. Then they decided he needed to be better at framing pitches! The Yankees are now trying to get Sanchez back to being the player he was in 2017 and 2017 and 2019 even though they played a large role, and possibly the only role in him no longer being that player.

If the Yankees were to make Sanchez the perfect defensive catcher and he were to still post 2020-like offensive numbers, he would still be criticized. No fans wants Sanchez to block every pitch in the dirt and steal a few strikes in a season and not hit. They want him to get on base 35 percent of the time and hit 30-plus home runs. They want the offense over the defense. The Yankees want it all. They want Sanchez to be the perfect, complete player. That player doesn’t exist, especially not at catcher.

On the negative criticism from Yankees fans.
“I have to listen to all the negative comments, everything that everyone has to say about me, because the truth is that I played badly at the plate. That’s why I have to take everything anyone says. Let them say what they want. I deserve it. That will make me better and stronger.”

As President of the Gary Sanchez Club (and one of the few remaining members, possibly the only remaining member), this comment broke my heart. Sanchez became the scapegoat for the underachieving 2019 and 2020 Yankees and unfairly so.

No, Sanchez didn’t hit in the 2019 ALCS against the Astros, but unless your name is DJ LeMahieu or Gleyber Torres, you are to blame for the offense failing in that series. Judge went 6-for-25 with 10 strikeouts and had one extra-base hit in the six games. Didi Gregorius: 5-for-23. Gio Urshela: 5-for-21. Gardner: 3-for-22 with 10 strikeouts. Edwin Encarnacion: 1-for-18 with 11 strikeouts. Hicks: 2-for-13 with five strikeouts.

Sanchez went 3-for-23 with 12 strikeouts in the series, but at least he hit a three-run home run in Game 5 in an attempt to keep his team from the brink of elimination.

On his 2020 season.
“It just wasn’t me. That 2020 thing, that wasn’t me. It was a bad year.”

Everyone needs to remember how good Sanchez has been. Historically good. In 2016, he nearly won Rookie of the Year (and should have won it over Michael Fulmer) despite playing in only 53 games. In 2017, he was an All-Star and Silver Slugger, hitting 33 home runs with an .876 OPS, earning him MVP votes. 2018 was a disaster, as he was hurt for most of the year, playing in only 89 games and needing offseason surgery. But the Yankees’ only win in over the Red Sox in the 2018 ALDS was single-handedly because of Sanchez, who hit two home runs and drove in four runs in Game 2. In 2019, Sanchez rebounded, and while the average (.232) and on-base percentage (.316) weren’t there, he still slugged .525 for an .841 OPS after hitting 34 home runs. And then there was 2020.

Sanchez’s 162-game averages are absurd. They would be absurd for any player, but for a catcher they are seemingly fake: 94 runs, 25 doubles, 44 home runs, 110 RBIs, .236/.320/.502. Yankees fans are upset their catcher averages only an .823 OPS over 162 games.

On getting back to being his old self in 2021.
“I went through something similar in 2018: I was hurt all year, and there was so much criticism. [In 2019], I came in proved my self and had one of the best years of my career.”

Sanchez is going to need to get off to a fast start in 2021 because the majority of Yankees fans are done with him, and Boone, the idiot, has already set a precedent that he will turn to Higashioka, considering he did in the biggest games last season. If Sanchez gets off to a slow start, the Higashiokers will be out in full, just like the Rominers (Yankees fans who wanted Austin Romine to play over Sanchez) were. This could very well be the last season of Sanchez as a Yankee even if he doesn’t play well and play well right away. Otherwise, Yankees fans will likely watch him win the 2022 World Series with the Padres.

I get why Yankees fans are frustrated with Sanchez. They remember how good he has been. I don’t get why Yankees fans have given up on him. I’m frustrated with him too, and I want him to return to being that player. I’m nowhere near ready to give up on him. I still believe in him.

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