MLB New York Yankees

In Wake Of Poor Defensive 2017 For Gary Sanchez, Yankees Need To Add Veteran Catcher

The 2017 MLB season is officially over with the Houston Astros reigning supreme as World Series champions. Congratulations to the Astros, their fans, and Brad Kyle. Now, all eyes shift to the offseason to build for 2018. The New York Yankees should have an interesting offseason despite the roster staying mostly intact. Obviously, the first step for the Bronx Bombers this offseason is replacing manager Joe Girardi. Once that is accomplished, the Yankees will have to examine their roster and decide on which holes to fill in to help bolster this team for a potential 2018 World Series run. The main area of concern for the Yankees should be the catching skills of Gary Sanchez. Arguably, Sanchez was the worst defensive catcher in the MLB in 2017. Moving into 2018, there might need to be an addition of a veteran catcher to help Sanchez.

What a difference a season makes though. In 2016, Sanchez had a huge impact on the Yankees when he was called up. The offensive production was sensational (20 home runs in two months), but he was not seen as a defensive liability. Actually, due to his great arm strength, there was talk that Sanchez could be a great defensive catcher one day. There were troubling signs (six passed balls and 15 wild pitches in 36 games behind the plate), but the overall feeling was one of promise. Then 2017 happened. Gary Sanchez led the MLB with 16 passed balls and added 53 wild pitches to boot. Sanchez went from promising defensive catcher to defensive liability.

The arm strength is the reason why the Yankees will want Sanchez behind the plate. Plus, it is capping a young player’s potential to make him the full-time DH (also, first base is taken). However, Sanchez was simply dreadful behind the plate this season. Sure, Sanchez has a hose of an arm, but I would personally rather have a catcher who will block and receive pitches well. In the ALCS, Sanchez missed two throws to home plate that would have resulted in easy outs. However, Sanchez missed the ball, with one coming on the walk-off hit in Game 2 where Jose Altuve was out by 45 feet.

The Presence of Brian McCann

Last offseason, the Yankees performed a cost-cutting operation by trading away veteran catcher Brian McCann. With two years left on his contract, the Yankees shipped the catcher away to Houston for a couple of prospects and part of his salary being taken by the Astros. Well, did that trade not work out peachy for the Astros? McCann might have only batted .241 for the Astros (.175 in the postseason) in 2017, but his veteran experience helped carry the Astros’ pitching staff to great seasons.

Personally, I was never a fan of the McCann trade. I understood why the Yankees did it, but I found McCann more valuable than simply a backup. He could have been a player-coach for Sanchez, who seemed to listen to McCann in 2016. Plus, it would have added another left-handed bat to the right-handed dominated Yankees lineup. But I digress back to the defense. McCann would have been a better guide for Sanchez than Austin Romine. It seemed evident that the coaching staff was not connecting with Sanchez, so perhaps a veteran catcher would have been beneficial in the clubhouse. Plus, with more faith in McCann at the plate than Romine, Sanchez could have had more appearances as DH, especially in the postseason.

Did Sanchez Help Cost Girardi His Job?

When the Yankees announced that Joe Girardi would not be coming back as Yankees’ manager, there was a lot of speculation about why. It was reported that Girardi would have been gone no matter the postseason success of the Yankees, so there had to be something about his tenure that rubbed management the wrong way. As a former catcher, it could not have helped Joe’s case that Gary Sanchez dropped off the face of the Earth defensively.

While I highly doubt that Sanchez’ defense was the sole or main reason the Yankees did not bring Girardi back, the poor defensive play might have been another tally in the perception that Girardi was not connecting to the Baby Bombers. A great defensive catcher in his playing career, how could Girardi not influence or coach Sanchez to be a better catcher as the season went on? In fact, it seemed that Sanchez only progressively got worse over the season. That had to be some sort of factor when it came to the decision to let Girardi go.

The Yankees Need A Veteran Catcher

If the coaching staff seemingly failed to connect with Gary Sanchez, the front office needs to invest in signing a veteran catcher. It does not have to be a high profile catcher the level of Brian McCann, but it does need to be someone who was a consistent starter at the MLB level for a portion of their career. An added bonus would be if this veteran could be an offensive threat greater than Austin Romine.

Free Agents

When looking at the free agent catching market, it is slim pickings. It is headlined by Jonathon Lucroy, who is coming off his worst season in his career (.265 average with 40 RBIs and six home runs). Despite that poor season, Lucroy will be too expensive and would be looking to be the everyday catcher. Digging a bit deeper into the free agent class, there are two names who could be signed to a one year deal who would bring the veteran presence that is needed: Carlos Ruiz and Chris Iannetta.

Chris Iannetta

After spending his 2017 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chris Iannetta will hit the market after this 12th season in the MLB. The veteran catcher will be 35 next season. Iannetta is coming off a productive 2017, bashing 17 home runs in 89 games to the tune of a .254/.354/.511 slash line. Offensively, Iannetta has never been a tremendous hitter, with his best season coming in 2008 where he hit 18 home runs, drove in 65 runs, and batted a modest .264.

Defensively, Iannetta has never been a plus catcher. However, he has never been bad either. He stays right at that middle of the road category, which would be an improvement honestly. Iannetta has never had a season with double-digit passed balls and throws runners out a quarter of the time. Iannetta has already filled a backup role numerous times in his career, but has also served as the main starter as well. Will his 2017 throw up his price? Maybe, but the larger concern is how average Iannetta is defensively.

Carlos Ruiz

Defensively, this is more like it. Carlos Ruiz has had a 12-year career, similar to Iannetta, where he has played for three different teams. From 2006 to 2015, Ruiz was the main catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, winning the 2008 World Series. The veteran catcher turns 39 in January and is definitely at the tail end of his career. Last season, he only played in 54 games for the Seattle Mariners.

Over the course of his career, Ruiz has been a strong defensive catcher. In his prime, he was top three in the NL in terms of catching. Over his 12 seasons, he has only had more than five passed balls once (2011). In 2016, he led the MLB with 41% of runners thrown out. His career mark is a lower at 27%. Ruiz is a skilled defensive catcher who could easily slide into the organization and be a guiding voice for Gary Sanchez. However, Ruiz offers little at the plate right now. Since 2015, Ruiz is only batting .230, including an abysmal .216 last season.

Obviously, offense would be the sacrifice here since Ruiz would not provide much more than Austin Romine does. However, the defensive merits that Ruiz bolsters is something worth looking into for the Yankees. Especially since they will likely be able to sign him for league veteran minimum.

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