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Inbox: Is Kraken's defense being addressed?

Beat reporter Bryan Hoch answers questions from Yankees fans
January 3, 2019

What is Gary Sanchez doing to improve his defense during the offseason? What do you think the chances are that he can dramatically improve behind the plate? -- Joe G., Ithaca, N.Y.Sanchez's winter work has been slowed as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder, and he will

What is Gary Sanchez doing to improve his defense during the offseason? What do you think the chances are that he can dramatically improve behind the plate?
-- Joe G., Ithaca, N.Y.

Sanchez's winter work has been slowed as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder, and he will go into Spring Training as a rehabbing player, but the Yankees expect him to be ready to participate in catching drills and to be behind the plate on Opening Day. He'll no doubt have a few pointers in mind following a November visit with Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez, who is generally regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in history. 
General manager Brian Cashman and manager Aaron Boone were both asked about Sanchez at the Winter Meetings in December. They agreed that while his blocking remains a concern, Sanchez's game-calling, pitch-framing and throwing are viewed as assets, along with an above-average bat that they believe should return to form this coming season.
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"I think he's an exceptional game-caller," Cashman said. "In terms of running our game plan and handling our pitching staff, he's terrific. Blocking pitches with a staff that throws a lot harder than most, that's really the only deficiency. He's got a cannon arm, he shuts down the opposing running game; we do have relievers that are slower to the plate, so obviously he's the equalizer on that.
"To me, the main deficiency on his game is blocking, which does show up every now and then. It's not something that we run and hide from, but in terms of boxes checked about what he does good, it's so overwhelming on one side of the ledger versus the other side of the ledger."
Sanchez permitted a Major League-leading 18 passed balls in 2018 despite catching in only 76 games. Boone said that the Yankees need to see improvement there, but does not want to overlook the other parts of Sanchez's all-around game.
"When we talk about Gary, people talk about the passed balls and it's something that certainly we want him to improve on," Boone said. "But sometimes that's one time in the course of a couple of days that shows up and clouds 95 percent of the work he's doing back there that's really good and really efficient.
"I think everyone sees and understands what he does to a running game with his ability to throw. … I think he has a really good feel of opposing hitters. I think he's got a really good sense of that. As we evaluate each and every night, more often than not, we came away giving him high marks in that regard."
Why did Manny Machado spend only 90 minutes with the Yankees, but four hours with the Phillies? Was meeting with the Yankees merely going through the motions?
-- Dave L., Newark, N.J.

I doubt that. While it is true that Machado spent approximately an hour and a half at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 20, there was more time to speak about his potential Yankees future later that evening. Machado, his wife Yainee and agent Dan Lozano had dinner in Manhattan with team president Randy Levine, Cashman, Boone and newly minted special advisor Carlos Beltran, according to the New York Post.
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In addition, there have been channels of communication between Machado's camp and the Yankees for weeks. The stadium tour is a fun part of the process, but negotiations of that magnitude take a while to hammer out. There is a general sense that Machado wants to be a Yankee, but the same was true of Patrick Corbin. We should find out at some point this month.
Why is no one talking about Machado's knees, and how perhaps that might be an impediment to the Yankees signing him?
-- Bill C., Jersey City, N.J.

To recap, Machado had surgical procedures on both knees in 2013 and '14. Machado injured his left knee in a Sept. 23, 2013, game at Tropicana Field and sustained a season-ending right knee injury against the Yankees on Aug. 11, 2014. At the time, Machado said that he had abnormal knees and hoped the surgeries would take care of the issue for good.
He has been exceptionally durable and productive since that second surgery, which should provide comfort that any knee issues are behind him. Machado played in 475 of a possible 486 games with the Orioles from 2015-17, including all 162 in '15. He also played in 162 games in '18, so health won't be the deciding factor in his destination. In the end, it will likely come down to the team that offers the most years and money.
What do the Yankees believe they can get for Sonny Gray?
-- Peter G., Stafford, Va.

Big league talent and top prospects have been attached to the ongoing discussion around Gray, whom the Yankees have made it clear that they intend to move before Opening Day. They aren't looking to sell for pennies on the dollar. Eleven teams are said to have shown interest in the right-hander, and that permits the Yankees to shop for the best available deal.
The Yanks asked the Reds about Taylor Trammell, Cincinnati's top outfield prospect, as well as some of the club's premium Minor League pitchers. It has also been reported that there was traction on a three-way trade with the Braves and Rangers that would have sent Gray to Atlanta while importing shortstop Jurickson Profar from Texas, but the Rangers traded Profrar to the A's. The Padres have significant interest as well.
Why focus on Miguel Andujar's fielding? Derek Jeter made 22 errors in his first full season. I am sure Miguel is capable of growing into the position. Do people just lack patience?
-- Karyn P., Huntsville, N.J.

There was internal concern about Andujar's defense, and the best example is that the Yankees kept him on the bench for their do-or-die Game 4 in the American League Division Series, believing that he was not their best option at third base with the contact-inducing Carsten Sabathia on the mound.
That said, the Yankees do not view Andujar as a finished product. In fact, Cashman recently said that they intended to keep Andujar in the Minors for most of 2018, viewing him as a better choice to play in the big leagues a year later. Andujar's bat (and Brandon Drury's injury) accelerated that timetable.
Cashman added that there is nothing that physically precludes Andujar from becoming a solid defender, and Andujar understands that there is work to do. He recently worked out with infield coach Carlos Mendoza at the team's complex in Tampa, Fla., focusing on improving Andujar's positioning so that he can better react to batted balls.
When is Jordan Montgomery expected to be ready? I never hear his name mentioned as a potential starter in 2019.
-- Pete L., Florham Park, N.J.

Montgomery had Tommy John surgery on his left elbow in June 2018 and is expected to be available to pitch in the big leagues sometime during the second half of the upcoming season, according to Yankees assistant general manager Michael Fishman. Assuming that Montgomery is able to pitch the way he did in 2017 and early last season, he could provide a nice boost.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.