Why? Because there’s essentially no available catcher who can do what Sanchez can at his peak, or something close to it.
In the event he struggles again, though, a win-now team like the Yankees would prefer not to hand the reins to an unproven catching prospect with a contention window this small. After all, if Sanchez is unpalatable behind the plate, does anyone really think an extremely green Austin Wells would be an immediate upgrade, especially defensively?
That’s why Sunday’s news out of the AL Central was a bit of a bummer.
Not that a Salvador Perez-Yankees connection was at all rumored, but the six-time All-Star was the clear cream of the free agent catching crop next offseason … until he wasn’t.
Ticketed for the type of money we once thought the Yankees would be using to extend Sanchez, Perez instead locked himself down in Kansas City this weekend on a four-year, $82 million deal.
Now, if Sanchez underwhelms, the only catchers waiting in the wings for the Yankees will be Travis d’Arnaud or an aged Yadier Molina once more. Not great.
Do the Yankees have a Gary Sanchez alternative after the Salvador Perez deal?
Not one that fans could feel completely satisfied with, no.
The team clearly believes in Wells, whether he’s the “catcher of the future” or just another strong lefty bat who’ll be ready at the plate before he’s ready in the field. We’re going to need to see a lot more before we can declare him a part of the blueprint, though — specifically, a single at-bat at the minor-league level, even.
If Sanchez completely plummets again this season, he’ll have made his point very clear; the Yankees will need to move on.
But what if Sanchez doesn’t ascend back to “MVP form” (shoutout to Aaron Judge’s leadership), but does hit, say, .230 with 22 homers. Is that enough to pay $8-10 million for in 2022? Would you buy out his final arbitration year with a three-year, $24 million backloaded extension? Would Sanchez even sniff at that?
If he falls into this dreaded middle ground, would the Yankees really bother to pay someone like d’Arnaud $30 million or so for three seasons? Perez was the only potential free agent who felt both expensive and worthwhile, and now he’s off the table.
If Sanchez rebounds, he’ll be opening the vault for more questions, and will suddenly be owed a chunk of money we’d previous apportioned to Aaron Judge or Gleyber Torres.
If he craters, the team will bite the bullet, sign a veteran backstop on a one-year deal, and probably push Wells along.
But if he’s somewhere in between, there’s now no reasonable “star” the Yankees can turn to instead. Cross your fingers and hope we get a definitive answer this year.