Yankees fans should be mad there’s no backup plan for catcher in 2021

Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Yankees fans should be angry that there’s no backup plan for replacing Gary Sanchez as starting catcher in 2021.

Gary Sanchez turned 28 last month, and he should be in the prime of his career. Instead, Baseball-Reference projects him to have a batting average of .207 and a dismal 136 strikeouts as well as sub-par home run and RBI totals.

Additionally, he continues to have problems in the defense. Many fans now hold their breath every time he runs to catch a pop up in foul territory, or when Aroldis Chapman is throwing 100 MPH fastballs.

Wasn’t Gerrit Cole requesting to have Kyle Higashioka as his personal catcher enough of a sign for the organization? He literally did not want Sanchez catching him.

Last month, the Yanks decided to keep Sanchez and tendered him a contract for 2021. He will no doubt continue to be a topic of trade discussions, though the team is unlikely to receive anyone of substantial worth given his recent track record. Since the first day of the 2018 season, he has hit .200 and has struck out a disappointing 283 times in 875 at-bats.

To Sanchez’s credit, he elected to play in the Dominican Winter League this offseason, thereby making an effort to improve his overall performance. He obviously recognizes that he has not reached his true potential (or has been able to maintain that potential), and he wants to put in the extra work to improve his play. He is not lazy, despite takes to the contrary.

Apparently, his participation in the DWL (he played in 19 games) has ended. Unfortunately, his mixed performance and lack of improvement during the offseason do not give one much assurance that he will up his game come next year.

If it wasn’t enough that Sanchez’s continued struggles in both the batter’s box and on the field are causes for concern by club executives and, in particular, Yankees manager Aaron Boone, he comes with other baggage as well.

For one, he’s a major distraction for the ball club, especially when he’s playing poorly. And when he has to talk to reporters about it, it’s not pretty.

Sometimes his statements to the media are confusing and imply that he’s not fully aware of his shortcomings as a player. For example, during a recent interview he said that he didn’t know why Boone benched him during the 2020 playoffs. Before a player can seriously begin to correct his shortcomings, he must first recognize them.

All of this diverts the club’s focus on playing well and winning day in and day out. The Yankees have enough distractions with the media. They simply cannot afford any more.

As I have argued before, throughout history, nearly all great MLB teams have had truly outstanding catchers. The Yanks are a case in point. Throughout their history, the Yanks have consistently won by having exceptional backstops such as Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, Bill Dickey, Jorge Posada, Wally Schang, and others.

These superb catchers earned a great deal of respect from their teammates based on their consistent great play and effective guidance of the club’s starters and relief pitchers. They often help form the team’s heart and soul, and they’re arguably among the most valuable position players on the club.

Most would agree that Sanchez is not among this class of players.

While I can understand general manager Brian Cashman’s decision to keep Sanchez on the team from a strategic and financial perspective, I’m puzzled as to why he has not begun to try to replace him.

In my view, it’s unlikely that Sanchez will improve in the manner in which we hope him to this coming year, which will seal his fate for 2022. The Yanks need to immediately develop a Plan B that includes replacing him with a first-rate MLB catcher.

The Yanks have the potential to accomplish great things in 2021, but not with Sanchez as their backstop. This team needs upgrades to advance to the World Series — not status quo in areas of weakness.

Some might argue passing on James McCann and not getting involved in the JT Realmuto sweepstakes are acts of being passive, but we can understand why those wouldn’t be atop the Yankees’ list of priorities.

Yadier Molina would be a good one- or two-year fill-in and serve as an immediate upgrade to Sanchez on the field and in the clubhouse, assuming that acquiring him wouldn’t break the bank. In addition to his incredible baseball savvy and ability to guide pitchers and manage games, he would be an inspiring presence given his track record.

Willson Contreras could be obtained through a trade with the Chicago Cubs and would prove to be a solid player behind the plate. Why isn’t that a more discussed option?

Finally, of course, there’s an outside chance that Kyle Higashioka could improve his play and take over as the everyday catcher, but that’s not exactly a momentous upgrade, now is it?

Are the Yankees considering any of these options? We really don’t know. But what we do know is that the team needs a backup plan in the event Sanchez falters in 2021. Because if he does, it’s going to be hard for New York to get back to the World Series.

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