The Yankees may have a catcher’s problem. Although Gary Sanchez is good offensively, the Yankees need someone that can also provide good defense. The Yankees knew his defense was an issue when they called him up but hoped it would improve over time. According to Brian Cashman, he says it has but when asked about Gary as the starting catcher next year, Cashman didn’t say yes or no. This is the second year in a row the question and a non-answer have been given. The market for catchers is very thin this off-season. What can/would the Yankees do?
Yankees are once again open to acquiring a catcher to replace Gary Sanchez. But the catching market is much thinner this year than last when they wanted to stay under the threshold and didn’t like the McCann price tag. — Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 11, 2021
For the second season in a row, Kyle Higashioka has caught in big games and became the personal catcher for Gerrit Cole. The ace of the staff having a personal catcher isn’t a new thing. Many managers try to avoid that but in the end, end up giving in. Sometimes, a pitcher just clicks with the backup catcher. Although not new, it doesn’t always look good for the everyday catcher to be benched every start the ace has.
Cole has always praised Sanchez since 2020 so it isn’t like he doesn’t like the guy. It might not be a surprise to the Yankees that Cole and Sanchez can’t click as well as he does with Higashioka. There is a possibility they were aware he might not. It was reported that the Yankees had an interest in Martin Maldonado when they signed Cole because it was known that Maldonado was the personal catcher for Cole in 2019.
The Yankees have interest in C Martin Maldonado, per source. Interesting stats to consider: Maldonado caught Gerrit Cole 10 times in 2019 – and Cole had a 1.57 ERA and .471 opponent OPS in those starts, his lowest numbers with any of Houston's catchers last season. — Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) December 11, 2019
TAKE THAT AS YOU WILL
If you paid attention to what YES Network has shown during his starts, Cole is almost always talking to Sanchez between innings whenever he is behind the plate. The conversations can be pretty animated at times where it looks like Cole is showing Sanchez where a pitch is located and a bat is swinging. He also talks to Higashioka but it seems that he is more animated with Sanchez. It was commented on how Sanchez was more patient with Cole shaking off signs often during the two innings of a game he caught. It may not be anything worth analyzing. The comment itself was interesting when it was never said why Sanchez and Cole couldn’t click well.
NOT THE BAT
Sanchez’s bat isn’t the problem. He is good offensively. It’s not fun going through the slumps he has because they can be brutal but his bat is still a threat. Maybe not as much as Giancarlo Stanton but still a threat. And it’s during those brutal slumps that Higashioka temporarily takes over as the everyday catcher. It’s always said catchers are “defense first” so being a power-hitting catcher is more of a bonus. Is it worth having to sacrifice one just to have the other? In my opinion, when Sanchez improves on one, the other suffers. Higashioka can hit when given constant playing time. He isn’t the best but it is good enough to justify him in the lineup every fifth day. And when he doesn’t, it can’t be worse than what Sanchez does during his slumps.
Acquiring another catcher will depend on two things: If the Yankees are willing to part with Sanchez or if they are willing to part with Higashioka.
If the Yankees part with Higashioka, the catcher they acquire could be the everyday catcher. That could put Sanchez as the backup catcher. They can also acquire another backup catcher and still have Sanchez play the majority of the season. I don’t see that happening because the Yankees really like Higashioka.
If the Yankees are willing to part with Sanchez then that means they are either willing to have Higashioka be the everyday catcher or they are acquiring an everyday catcher via trade or signing. I don’t see Higashioka being the everyday catcher. Although his bat isn’t horrible, I think the Yankees prefer someone that can have good at-bats every day.
As mentioned before, the market for catchers is very thin. Many of the catchers available via free agency are in their early-mid 30’s now. The Yankees can add another catcher for depth purposes. Austin Romine is a name you can watch out for if he can’t find a team to play every day with. Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco are the “youngest” in the group currently free agents.
STICK WITH WHAT SORT OF WORKS
The Yankees may stick with the Sanchez/Higashioka combo in 2022 but keep an eye on the trade deadline if the same situation arises with Sanchez. He has to show the Yankees that he is not only capable of improving his defense and offense at the same time but that he is consistent in it.
As of now, Gary Sanchez is expected to be the everyday catcher for the 2022 season. The question is: How long before you move on from Sanchez if the backup catcher continues to eventually take over during the season and/or postseason? Only the Yankees know that answer.