HomeMLB RumorsFree Agent Profile: Gary Sánchez

Free Agent Profile: Gary Sánchez

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Disappointment occurs when reality doesn’t meet expectations. That can result from reality not being very good but it’s also possible for expectations to be too high. If there’s an upcoming movie or album that you build up in your head as the greatest of all time and it turns out to be only pretty good, that will probably register as a disappointment to you. All of this is a tee-up for this question: What if Gary Sánchez is actually pretty good?

Once upon a time, the expectations for Sánchez were so incredibly high. A top 100 prospect on his way up the minor league ladder with the Yankees, he burst onto the scene in 2016, hitting 20 home runs in just 53 games. He followed that up with 33 homers in his first full campaign in 2017, hitting .278/.345/.531 for a wRC+ of 131. He still hadn’t qualified for arbitration at that time, giving the Yanks years of cheap club control and leading many to give the nickname “The Sanchize” to the young catcher.

But he hasn’t been at that level since, which is why many now view him as a disappointment or a bust. In 2018, he hit below the Mendoza line while battling injuries and only getting into 89 games. He bounced back with a 34-homer campaign in 2019, but that was the “juiced ball” season and his batting average, on-base percentage and defense were all worse than in 2017. His 2.4 wins above replacement from FanGraphs were barely half of the 4.3 fWAR he had in 2017.

In 2020, Sánchez hit another 10 home runs in the shortened season but his .147 BA and .253 OBP were obviously rough. He struck out in 36% of his plate appearances. There were rumors that the Yankees were considering a non-tender, rather than giving him a raise on his $5MM salary. A poll of MLBTR readers from that offseason saw just 36.42% of voters suggest the club should run him back out as the starter again in 2021, with 41.04% suggesting a trade or non-tender and another 22.53% suggesting Sánchez be moved into a backup role.

The club did eventually tender him a contract, with the two sides settling on a $6.35MM salary for 2021. He went on to have a decent year, hitting 23 home runs and reducing his strikeout rate to 27.5%. His .204/.307/.423 batting line translated to a wRC+ of 101. That was enough to get him tendered a contract for 2022, though he was flipped to the Twins as part of the Josh Donaldson deal.

His one year in Minnesota yielded mixed results. His 16 home runs in 128 games were well shy of his previous power production, leading to a .205/.282/.377 batting line and 89 wRC+. But he showed some positive developments on defense. Defensive Runs Saved had him at -10 in 2021 but he jumped to +1 with the Twins. Framing metrics from FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus gave him a positive mark after being in negative territory the previous three years. Statcast gave him a league average zero for his blocking, an improvement from the negative numbers in the previous four campaigns. Despite the subpar offense, he still tallied 1.3 fWAR.

A free agent for the first time going into 2023, Sánchez found a fairly tepid market. He lingered on the open market until the end of March, when he signed a minor league deal with the Giants. He opted out of that deal in early May and secured another minor league pact, this time with the Mets. His contract was selected by that club but he was designated for assignment after just three games.

The Padres claimed him off waivers in late May and he went on a heater from there. He hit 19 home runs in just 75 games, striking out in just 25.1% of his plate appearances. His .217/.288/.492 batting line led to a wRC+ of 111. His defense was also strong, with a +7 DRS and positive framing grades from Statcast and Baseball Prospectus. He tallied 1.7 fWAR in less than half a season, getting shut down in early September due to a wrist fracture.

There’s also the game-calling to consider, which is hard to measure but definitely has value. Martín Maldonado has continued to get work despite being one of the worst hitters in baseball in his career, largely on the strength of his defense and work with a pitching staff. His defensive numbers were poor in 2023 but he was still able to get $4MM from the White Sox for 2024, with the Sox presumably willing to give out that kind of cash for some intangible benefit from Maldonado’s ability to tease more value of their pitchers.

Sánchez joining the Padres coincided with Blake Snell turning around his season. Through 10 starts this year, Snell had an earned run average of 5.04. But he posted a miniscule 1.18 ERA over his final 22 outings, lowering his season ERA to 2.25 and earning himself a second Cy Young Award. Sánchez caught the first 18 of those 22 games, missing the last four due to his wrist injury.

That may be a coincidence but Snell himself spoke positively of the pairing to Dennis Lin of The Athletic during the season. “I’ve always heard about him offensively, but I love him,” Snell said at that time. “He blocked, like, a 97-mile-an-hour fastball in the dirt. I threw a curveball and it hit the grass and he blocked it. I mean, I don’t see the problem. Even calling the game, we had a game plan; we executed. I even put a lot of trust in him, like, what do you want? Like, you tell me. … I trust him on that. He’s smart.” The praise didn’t end there. “Framing’s good. Framing, blocking, he’s got a hose,” said Snell. “No one’s even trying to run on me. And I’ve been, like, 1.5, 1.6 (seconds to home). I really trust him because of how good he is back there. It brings a lot of comfort. So I’ve been really happy about it.”

Now Sánchez is on the open market again, with very little smoke around his free agency. The Padres reportedly had interest in a reunion, though that was before they acquired Kyle Higashioka in the Juan Soto deal. No other club has been connected to Sánchez in rumors. That’s despite the fact that there are clubs with obvious needs behind the plate, including the Marlins, Rockies, Red Sox, Cubs, Angels, Rays and Pirates.

For some people, Sánchez will always be a bust, with his incredible early-career work having set the hopes so high. While the recent work is obviously not the same as in 2016-2017, the result is still a solid everyday player. His 8.6 fWAR dating back to 2018 his 11th in baseball among primary catchers. One of those ahead of him is Buster Posey, so he’s actually 10th among those that are still active. He’s never produced less than 1.3 fWAR in a full season. His batting average seems destined to remain low, but his power has been present in every season apart from his 2022 stint with the Twins. On defense, his blocking and framing have improved in recent years, while his arm has always been strong. The game-calling is tough to quantify but Snell’s results and high praise are positive omens.

The total package paints Sánchez as a decent everyday catcher, which could lead to pretty good money in free agency. In recent winters, Christian Vázquez got $30MM over three years, Omar Narváez got two years and $15MM, while Yan Gomes got $13MM over two. This winter, Mitch Garver got $24MM, Victor Caratini $12MM and Tom Murphy $8.3MM, all on two-year deals. Garver and Murphy have checkered injury histories while Caratini has never been a potent offensive threat. Sánchez could perhaps be in line for a much better trip to free agency than a year ago, so long as the expectations are set appropriately.

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