How Yankees can still replace Gary Sánchez after missing Tucker Barnhart

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 14: Tucker Barnhart #16 of the Cincinnati Reds in action during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on September 14, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 14: Tucker Barnhart #16 of the Cincinnati Reds in action during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on September 14, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

So you’ve heard of exactly one catcher the New York Yankees could chase this offseason, and his name is Tucker Barnhart, and he’s already gone to the Detroit Tigers, huh?

Good. We’re here to help.

Here are our options. Of course, the Yankees could do nothing and opt to hope Gary Sánchez’s bat rebounds to the point where it masks his glove deficiencies, but … it’s been four years since 2017. The bat’s getting worse. Though Sánchez was above the benchmark for “average” throughout most of 2021, he ended up with a 99 OPS+ and a 99 wRC+. Perfectly average, a little below.

For someone whose bat is his calling card (and who’ll never catch an important Gerrit Cole start as long as he’s on the roster!), that’s not good enough.

Certainly a “careful what you wish for” situation in terms of sacrificing offense behind the plate, but the Braves and Astros just made the World Series with Travis d’Arnaud (74 OPS+) and Martin Maldonado (58 OPS+) behind the dish. You really can sacrifice a bat behind the dish and be OK. Plus, sometimes, the wrong fit is just the wrong fit, and the fan base’s patience with Sánchez is now rightfully waning after not rightfully waning from 2018-2019.

When has a Yankees team ever won a World Series without an elite-and-tight up the middle unit? Jorge Posada made up for his noodle arm with a career 121 OPS+. Sánchez has … not done that; he’s been buoyed up to 113 by his 2016-2017 seasons, and is trending downward. You might not enjoy hearing it, but seeking an alternative is now perfectly fair.

So, who’s on the docket? Does anyone fulfill the needs of “slightly-below-average bat with a Gold Glove” on the free agent or trade markets? Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart, aimed with a $7.5 million option, kind of did, but he’s on the Tigers now. Oops.

How can the Yankees replace Gary Sánchez at catcher without Tucker Barnhart?

Barnhart doesn’t hit much, either. His best season with the bat was also 2017, when he posted a below-average 95 OPS+ mark. But a two-time Gold Glover is a two-time Gold Glover, and the market surrounding him is weak.

Weak, but not empty.

Yan Gomes is the best available free agent (technically), but he provides very little that differs from Sánchez’s current package. The bat is more dependable and the cost will be slightly cheaper, but the power would be down significantly and the defense isn’t a tangible upgrade. All he’ll really bring is the intangible reputation of being a “solid veteran game-caller.”

Martin Maldonado himself happens to be available on the free agent market, and we saw what a weapon Machete can be this postseason when he snuffed out a Red Sox rally enthusiastically all by himself with a cannon arm and celebration for the ages. We also watched him go 6-for-52 throughout the entire Astros postseason run.

Does Manny Piña tickle your fancy? For just $1.65 million last year, he basically replicated Sánchez’s offense (94 OPS+). He’d save the Yankees ~$8 million, at least, and wouldn’t bring the same name-recognition-induced headache.

The latest reports indicate the Tampa Bay Rays are picking up their $7 million option on Mike Zunino; they may trade him, but they won’t let him walk for nothing. He’d be the best-case scenario here (Barnhart’s glove with a 30-bomb bat?), but guess what? Even the Rays wouldn’t trade him directly to the Yankees. 

And then … there’s a trade for rent-sharing Twins catcher Mitch Garver.

Presumably, the Twins are ready to move rookie Mitch Garver impersonator Ryan Jeffers into the starter’s role soon, leaving the 31-year-old Garver (arbitration eligible in 2022 and 2023) floating a bit.

Garver’s offense is, in a word, stunning. He’s what people believe Sánchez to be, rocking 157 and 140 OPS+ marks his previous two full seasons in 2019 and 2021. He’s the kind of bat that really does outweigh his glove, if the Yankees intend to slug one-through-nine next year. He was a slightly below-average catcher (Sánchez-level, again) in 2019; -7 Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average/1,200 Innings, 2 DRS, where Sánchez fell at -5 and -3 that year.

In 2021, though? Garver ended up at 2 and 0, while Sánchez plummeted to -12 and -14.

Superior with the glove, superior with the bat. Is there any reason the Yanks shouldn’t surrender two top-15 prospects for Garver, especially given the scarcity at the position?