When the New York Yankees made the not-that-difficult decision to tender Gary Sanchez a contract for the 2021 season, they weren’t doing so with the intention of benching him for Game 1 of a postseason series.
The Yankees’ strongest lineup, both offensively and defensively, should be playing any such hypothetical game.
If everything goes according to plan, that group would include a 30-homer bat in Sanchez instead of either a wince-worthy black hole or a controversial backup.
And so, while no judgments should be drawn on the substance of Gerrit Cole’s spring debut, it should’ve sent a loud and clear signal to the fanbase: get used to this pairing, because it’s not going anywhere unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Cole’s first outing of the spring included a single strikeout, only three swings-and-misses, two unlucky low-exit-velocity singles, and an earned run allowed in a 28-pitch first.
This had very little to do with Gary Sanchez’s existence, and won’t be held against him moving forward. And if your eyes are still closed to that inevitable reality, it’s time to open them.
You don’t have to buy into a Sanchez rebirth to understand why it’s in this team’s best interest to pair their starting catcher with their most important pitcher.
And the Yankees will force-feed this pairing until they have exhausted all other options, proving declaratively that it does not work.
That isn’t to say they’re making it easy for El Gary to cement his currently-gifted status, though. Sanchez is entering a minefield this preseason, and in the court of public opinion, plenty of fans have already made their minds up on his ability to make a pitcher — specifically, one of Cole’s caliber — reach his peak.
He’s also got to shake off advancing fan favorite Kyle Higashioka and Cole’s ex-personal catcher in Houston, Robinson Chirinos, ahead of a season that could dictate his future in the Bronx. In 68.2 Chirinos-Cole innings in Houston in 2019, the big righty posted a 1.57 ERA with 114 strikeouts and 11 walks.
Two personal preferences, and yet they’re both currently being shrugged off in favor of Sanchez. That matters.
Once again, a Sanchez-Cole pairing will be inevitable at every turn this spring, because the idealized version of this roster includes both men working with perfect compatibility.
Aaron Boone has refused to comment on positional pairings, but as Meredith Marakovits calmly stated on Monday’s broadcast, Sanchez and Cole teamed up for his first bullpen session. They did so again for his first live batting practice. And they locked eyes once more for the official Grapefruit League opener.
The Opening Day battery is intended to feature these two men, too. And no matter how much Sanchez’s mere existence may make you want to snarl, you have to realize why this is in everyone’s best interest.