How do you solve a problem like Gary Sanchez?
No, really. Does anyone have any ideas?
I’ve been taking a trip down memory lane with Yankee catchers lately, but it’s hard to continue to ignore the offseason chatter regarding Gary Sanchez. As I’ve noted, the Yankees have been spoiled with some of the best catchers over the years, adding to the pressure of an already pressure-filled position in one of the most loyal and judgmental fanbases out there. It sounds like maybe it’s getting to be a bit much for the backstop.
But before I delve into the problems facing Sanchez today, I think it’s important to acknowledge his journey. The fact that he made it to the Big Leagues as a catcher kind of flew in the face of expectation. Sanchez followed another high-profile prospect, Jesus Montero, through the minors. Both were touted as having big league bats and problematic defense. The potential Yankee catchers of the future – or maybe a different position…
Of course, in the end, the Yankees made the decision to send Montero to Seattle for Michael Pineda, clearing the way for Gary Sanchez. Montero took that trade hard and then never really came close to living up to expectations Yankee fans were fed for years.
When Sanchez hit the big leagues in 2016, he put together a solid .299/.376/.657 line in 53 games. In 2017, playing in 122 games, Sanchez hit .278/.345/.531 and had 33 homers. The questions about Sanchez’s defense have lingered, but personally, I respect the work he has put into it. However, over the last three seasons, Sanchez’s work behind the plate hasn’t made up for his decline at the plate.
In December, came the news that Sanchez felt blindsided by his benching in the playoffs. Now, I think it is fair to think perhaps he should have known that he was being benched due to his bat virtually disappearing, but it doesn’t sound like he is doing any better now.
According to Pudge Rodriguez, Sanchez is in a bad place mentally. He’s not enjoying baseball right now, rather it is depressing him. I’m sure he is relieved to have this year’s contract dealt with, but he has to know that he isn’t headed into this season as a lock for the Opening Day catcher.
Sanchez is staring down a major crossroads in his career. If he can return to the Sanchez of 2017 – heck I’ll take 2019 Sanchez even – I think he could find his footing again. The fact that he appears to be mentally struggling, however, really worries me. It’s the part that makes me think about Jesus Montero and how he faded away, though I think Sanchez works harder.
Nick Swisher had some advice for the struggling slugger, saying, “My advice: don’t listen to anything, don’t read anything, just get back to being Gary Sanchez. Don’t worry about what people say, just continue to stick to the grind and the process, because if you do, the results will come.” Swish points out how Sanchez burst onto the scene and how hard he has worked and seems hopeful for him. Then again, that’s Swish for you.
When a player with lots of talent is having fun you can tell. Say what you want about A-Rod (or don’t because he really isn’t the point of this post), but he was a lot of fun to watch those last few years when he stopped worrying about his image and PEDs and the rest of it. He found his love of baseball again and you could see it in the way he played and the way he interacted with his teammates. I hope Sanchez is able to get out of his mental funk, focus and – most importantly – find his joy in baseball again. It does make a difference.