Over a month after he barely played Gary Sanchez in the playoffs, Aaron Boone had some criticism … of all the catchers’ critics. Boone said the piling on of the Yankees catcher was “over the top.”
“I think he’s been unfairly criticized a lot,” the Yankees manager told Meredith Marakovits on YES Network’s Yankees Hot Stove Monday night. “I think at times it’s over the top and people are blinded by some of the things that he’s done really well.
“This year was certainly a challenging year for him and a struggle for him in a lot of ways, but that’s okay,” Boone continued. “That’s part of the game. Sometimes you have a tough season, and this season was tough for so many people across the league for different reasons.”
Boone has long been a defender of Sanchez. In 2018, the manager went to see Sanchez at his home in Dominican Republic as a way to get to know him and build a strong foundation for a relationship.
But there was really no choice.
Defensively, after the Yankees restructured their coaching staff and brought in Tanner Swanson with the edict to make Sanchez into a better receiver, there was little improvement. When newly crowned Yankees’ ace Gerrit Cole made it clear he preferred pitching to backup Kyle Higashioka, the door opened to Sanchez losing his starting job.
Sanchez was always going to be given plenty of leeway defensively as long as he continued to crush the baseball like he did earlier in his career.
The problem: Sanchez’s bat was awful in 2020. He slashed .147/.253/.365 with 64 strikeouts in 156 at-bats.
Sanchez was in the bottom two percentile of strikeout percentage and bottom 11 percentile of whiff percentage this season, according to Baseball Savant. While he was among the players hitting the ball the hardest this season and did have 10 home runs, he also struggled with the highest percentage of line drives of his career — not the best option for slow-footed catchers.
Boone started by having Higashioka catch Cole. Then he benched Sanchez for two days in September to allow him time to work on his swing. Then when it came down the stretch, the two catchers were splitting time. In the end, however, Sanchez had just nine plate appearances and played in just three of seven playoff games.
That left a lot of questions about Sanchez’s future.
He was scheduled to make $5 million in 2021 before the 2020 season was shortened by the coronavirus pandemic. In his second year of arbitration, even after a down season, Sanchez, who turns 28 next week, would likely get a raise heading into 2021. The public health crisis, which forced baseball to play all but the NLCS and World Series without fans, however, had owners claiming extreme financial losses which will have long-term effects, beginning with hard personnel decisions heading into 2021.
There is some speculation the Yankees could “non-tender” Sanchez. Teams have to officially agree to tender arbitration-eligible players’ contract by Dec. 2.
Boone’s comments seemed to throw cold water on the idea the Bombers would just cut ties with the catcher they’ve spent years trying to groom.
“But we understand that Gary is a major talent, and while he struggled in certain areas, he’s also made amazing strides in certain areas,” Boone said. “Like with all our players, it’s important that we continue to develop (Sanchez) to be the player that so many of us believe he can be.”
For his part, Sanchez is expected to spend this winter working on his swing. He is scheduled to play in the winter league in his native Dominican Republic beginning in “early December.” He will join fellow embattled Bombers Domingo German, who is pitching for the first time since 2019 after serving a domestic violence suspension, and Miguel Andujar, who is trying to rediscover his swing after losing his spot while injured in 2019.