Inbox: How Sánchez fits in Yanks' 2021 plans

Beat reporter Bryan Hoch answers fans' questions

October 18th, 2020

The bizarre 2020 season is complete for the Yankees, who scattered (again) following their elimination in the American League Division Series. They looked like potential world-beaters at times, but came up short too often -- especially in their most important games. Now, for the third time this calendar year, we enter offseason mode:

What should the Yankees do with Gary Sánchez during the offseason to get him where he needs to be? And if he doesn’t, what are their options?
-- Barbara F., via Twitter

Sánchez’s future in pinstripes figures to be a main point of discussion when the Yankees’ braintrust huddles in the next week or so for their annual pro scouting meetings. The Yanks’ decision to start Kyle Higashioka in five of their seven postseason games spoke volumes, and it is certainly fair to wonder if the Yankees view Sánchez as their starting catcher in 2021.

Manager Aaron Boone has spoken about his belief that Sánchez’s at-bats were better than the numbers indicate. It’s true that Sánchez was not rewarded for most of his hard contact, but bad luck alone doesn’t explain why he has essentially regressed into a league-average player over the last three years (99 OPS+). General manager Brian Cashman has said that they still believe that Sánchez is capable of more, and that “better days are ahead for him.”

Sánchez will continue to work with catching coach Tanner Swanson remotely this offseason, as he did during the four-month shutdown. Cashman said that there could be a catching competition next spring, but Sánchez is arbitration-eligible and will be due a raise over the $5 million he earned this year. That’s too much for a backup. I wouldn’t expect to see Sánchez non-tendered, but trade talk certainly would be on the table.

What are the chances that the Yankees sign Trevor Bauer?
-- Sarah A., via Instagram

Anyone who follows Bauer on social media knows that he isn’t shy about stirring the pot, and the right-hander inserted himself into the conversation during Game 3 of the ALDS, when he tweeted: “Kinda looks like the @yankees could use some more starting pitching. Interesting.”

He’s not wrong; the Yankees always seem to be chasing rotation help, even after giving Gerrit Cole the largest contract ever issued to a free-agent hurler. That figures to be the case again this winter, with J.A. Happ, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka all eligible for free agency. Bauer sounded a lot like Cole when he said that his priority is to pitch for “a team that has a winning culture … I want a chance at a World Series.”

It adds spice that Bauer has expressed being open to short-term contracts and that he has a previous relationship with Cole, having starred together at UCLA. Bauer recently said that a reported rift between him and Cole is “non-existent [and] fictitious.” Ultimately, it will depend on how the Yanks set their budget coming off a season in which they received no fan revenue at Yankee Stadium, but in a strict baseball sense, there’s no reason they shouldn’t want a Cole/Bauer one-two punch.

With Whitey Ford’s passing, who is now the greatest living Yankee?
-- Jacob W., New York, N.Y.

Ford’s passing, announced the morning of ALDS Game 5, really hurt. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word, and it was an honor having a chance to interview him a few years back at Yankee Stadium. It was like being able to touch the 1950s. I came away thinking that it was like I’d just had a chat with Frank Sinatra.

I don’t consider WAR to be everything, but it’s good for quick comparisons. And there’s a good debate to be had here: if you could pick only one, would you rather have Derek Jeter (71.3 bWAR) or Mariano Rivera (56.3 bWAR)? They’re at the top of the list, followed by Willie Randolph (54.0 bWAR), Alex Rodriguez (54.0 bWAR) and Andy Pettitte (51.3 bWAR).

Will Clint Frazier be the starting left fielder in 2021?
-- Francesco C., Brooklyn, N.Y.

I believe Frazier has earned that opportunity. Take out his 1-for-20 skid at the end of the regular season and Frazier was clearly one of the team’s best offensive performers, batting .306/.422/.595 with eight homers and 26 RBIs in his first 33 games. We knew his bat would play, but Frazier’s defense improved markedly, which he believes is partially attributable to being further removed from his 2018 concussion.

When the Yankees came into this year, there did not appear to be a clear avenue for Frazier to score at-bats over Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Tauchman. Credit to Frazier: he waited, then made the most of a chance. Gardner’s status is uncertain, Tauchman hardly played down the stretch and the Yankees view Stanton as a full-time designated hitter. The Yanks are still too right-handed, but Frazier’s time appears to be now.

Will the Yankees look for another closer or will they keep Aroldis Chapman?
-- Gillie V., Hartford, Conn.

All indications are that Chapman will be back in the closer’s role next season, despite having surrendered two crushing homers that effectively ended the season within one calendar year.

It’s less certain if Zack Britton will return in a setup role, given his unique contract situation -- the Yankees must decide if they will pick up a $14 million option for 2022. If they do not, Britton can opt out and become a free agent, leaving his $13 million salary for '21 on the table. Either way, the ninth inning figures to belong to Chapman.

Will the Yankees have Domingo Germán and Luis Severino in the rotation to start the 2021 season?
-- Mike R., Ramsey, N.J.

Germán is eligible to rejoin the active roster in Spring Training, though after missing all of 2020, he’ll have to recapture the form that allowed him to pace the Yanks in victories last year. As a condition of Germán’s suspension, he was unable to work out at any of the club’s facilities, a source of frustration which Cashman said prompted the hurler’s one-day “retirement” in July.

As for Severino, Cashman said that the Yankees are setting June or July as his target for a big league return. Severino had Tommy John surgery in February and has been tossing at 90 feet for about three weeks.