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Weak Catching Market Should Simplify Yankees’ Impending Gary Sánchez Decision

The tender deadline is nearing. What will New York do with its longtime catcher?

The deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players is 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 30, and the Yankees have a few decisions to make before the expiration of the CBA leads to an expected lockout and a freeze on roster moves.

New York’s most notable non-tender candidate is Gary Sánchez. The Yankees considered non-tendering the catcher last offseason following an abysmal, COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, but he was ultimately tendered and received a raise. If tendered again, Sánchez will receive another pay bump; MLB Trade Rumors projects the 28-year-old will earn $7.9 million in arbitration.

So, should the Yankees tender their longtime catcher?

Sánchez only made slight improvements in 2021, with his bat once again falling short of expectations and his defense often drawing criticism. Sánchez slashed .204/.307/.423 with 23 homers and 54 RBI over 117 games and 383 at-bats. Defensively, he continued to make adjustments while committing six errors and overseeing eight passed balls, 60 wild pitches and 50 stolen bases. His 17% caught stealing rate was by far the lowest of his career. As for framing, Sánchez ranked 55th in Runs From Extra Strikes (-6) and 49th in Strike Rate (45.8%). Fifty-nine catchers qualified, per Baseball Savant.

Despite the numbers, Yankees GM Brian Cashman was complimentary of Sánchez after the season, specifically noting his work ethic and stating that he “came a long way defensively.”

“I know one thing. Gary has worked his tail off. Gary has been so committed. I know at times the results may not be there, but I am proud that we’ve got a guy with a lot of heart, a lot of care, a lot of effort,” Cashman said. “He worked his tail off all year to put himself in a position to be an improved player for us at that position this year. And for the bulk of the year, that showed. At times down the stretch, it maybe deteriorated a little bit.”

READ: Cashman Offers Praise For Sánchez, But No Commitment

Despite the praise, Cashman added a “we’ll see” when asked if Sánchez will be New York’s starting catcher moving forward. He doesn’t need to make that decision by Tuesday night, but the GM does have to decide if Sánchez will remain a Yankee.

A market crowded with buyers and low on supply should make the choice an easy one despite Sánchez’s subpar stats.

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New York’s alternative options behind the plate are limited. Kyle Higashioka hasn’t shown the bat to be a full-time starter, and Tucker Barnhart, Manny Piña and Jacob Stallings are already off the board. The remaining free agents leave a lot to be desired, and there only a few trade candidates (Willson Contreras, Mitch Garver, Carson Kelly, Sean Murphy) left. They’re varying levels of enticing.

READ: Could the Yankees Trade For Willson Contreras?

New York is not the only team that could at least think about making a catching upgrade; the Giants, Guardians and Orioles could all do some shopping.

Meanwhile, Sánchez was still a top-15 hitter at his offensively-challenged position in 2021 based on his 99 OPS+, per MLB.com’s Mike Petriello. If the Yankees were to non-tender him, they would be wise to land a surefire upgrade first. Of course, they’re running out of time to do that before the tender deadline.

The safest thing to do would be to hold onto Sánchez for now, not knowing what lies ahead with the lockout. If a better opportunity presents itself down the road, the Yankees can pounce on it. But they should also be realistic about the potential for an upgrade whenever the roster freeze thaws out. New York won’t have a ton of choices that are better than Sánchez; the grass won’t necessarily be greener once unfrozen.

That may not be what some Yankees fans want to read, but there wasn’t much out there at the start of the offseason and there’s even less now.

With Higashioka adding defense, New York has solid catching situation. It’s just made up of two main contributors instead of one. That wasn’t the outlook the Yankees had for Sánchez a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean they should rush to unload the receiver just yet.

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