Gary Sanchez has seen better days. The New York Yankees catcher was held out of his usual spot at catcher for the second day in a row yesterday due to concerns over his defense. These concerns could affect Sanchez’s future at his position.
Manager Joe Girardi’s concerns are valid. Sanchez leads all catchers with 12 passed balls on the season. He has also made ten errors. Given how Girardi had a reputation as a stellar defensive catcher during his playing career, one can understand why he took the 24-year-old out of the lineup.
Fans may not want to hear it, but this could be an early sign that Sanchez’s future is not as a catcher and GM Brian Cashman should plan accordingly.
Sanchez’s defensive decline
Sanchez’s defensive concerns began last year when he was called up and became an everyday player. Yes, he did hit an astounding .299 with 20 home runs and 42 RBI in just 50 games played, but he also committed six passed balls and three errors in just 36 appearances at catcher.
His most significant passed balls occurred recently when he had three in less than a month’s time during a June-to-July stretch. That Girardi has been willing to start a lesser hitter in Austin Romine at the position recently speaks volumes, and not just that he is comfortable benching Sanchez’s powerful bat if he thinks it gives the Yankees a better shot to win.
Girardi’s taking Sanchez off the field by either benching him outright or keeping him as a designated hitter sends a message. Last year’s strong performance, his long-term potential, and status as a franchise building block don’t mean Sanchez gets special treatment. He has to be held accountable too.
This means that Sanchez’s future as a catcher needs to be reassessed by the front office, a decision that could be tough given the team’s current roster.
A move to 1B?
The most obvious option would be to move Sanchez to first base, the position where many catchers head when their defense takes a step back. Several memorable catchers, namely Hall-of-Famers Yogi Berra and Mike Piazza, played there later in their careers, so it’s not as though such a move would be unexpected for Sanchez.
There’s just one problem. New York has a highly regarded youngster in Greg Bird penciled in at first base for the foreseeable future.
Bird has played in just 19 games this year due to an ankle injury, but he shouldn’t just be tossed aside. He is working his way back from surgery to correct the problem and hopes to return this season.
Bird is also projected to be a strong defensive first baseman, so he at least deserves another chance to prove himself. For all we know, this season was just a product of injury and he’ll be back at full force in 2018.
And if Bird can’t fly?
It’s also worth noting that Sanchez deserves another season behind the plate to shake off his sophomore slump. As long as he uses his offseason to prioritize improving his defense and not just solve his problems in the hitting department, he can take a step forward next year. He’ll only be 25 in 2018, so it’s way too early to have him move on from catching completely.
Only if Sanchez’s defense continues to suffer and Bird prove unable to return to top form should he be moved to first base full-time starting in 2019. This gives GM Brian Cashman a timeline to plan the Yankees future behind the dish that doesn’t include Sanchez.
This could mean re-signing Romine to a multi-year deal this offseason, even if it means overpaying and in spite of his throwing out just 20% of base stealers for his career compared to Sanchez’s 38%. That may be a small sample size, but Romine also has just eight passed balls since debuting in 2011. No matter how you spin it, he’s a better overall defensive catcher on that stat alone.
By keeping Romine around, even with his limited offensive production, the Yankees ensure that their defense behind the plate won’t entirely implode if Sanchez has to switch positions. Romine has been with the team for a long time and has proven himself as a defensive stalwart.
That alone could serve as a reminder and even motivator for Sanchez that his defense has to improve. The Yankees brought him up to be a catcher, and he needs to prove that he belongs there.
Otherwise, the Yankees will have to make some tough decisions sooner rather than later, so Sanchez had better get to work.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?