LAS VEGAS -- With 10 days remaining on the regular-season schedule, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman stood in foul territory at Yankee Stadium and remarked that he was "doubling down and tripling down" on Gary Sanchez's future, believing that the catcher's ceiling was worth that gamble.Three months later, from a
LAS VEGAS -- With 10 days remaining on the regular-season schedule, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman stood in foul territory at Yankee Stadium and remarked that he was "doubling down and tripling down" on Gary Sanchez's future, believing that the catcher's ceiling was worth that gamble.
Three months later, from a seat 35 floors above the action at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Cashman continued to let that bet ride. The Yankees have no active discussions regarding a starting catcher, and Cashman said that all trade proposals involving Sanchez have been rejected.
"He's part of our solution," Cashman said. "There is no problem with him from that perspective. He's a big difference-maker. When we take the field and he's in that lineup, 90 percent of the other clubs do not have that type of caliber player at that position. It's a difficult position in our game, and we have one of the best at that position in the game."
Over 175 big league games from 2016-17, Sanchez hit .284/.354/.568 with 53 homers and 132 RBIs, reminding Cashman of the offensive advantage the club once enjoyed with Jorge Posada behind the plate.
Sanchez's production cratered this year, when he batted .186/.291/.406 with 18 homers and 53 RBIs in 89 games, serving two stints on the disabled list with groin injuries. Sanchez then underwent left shoulder surgery in October.
"This year in a lot of ways was a very tough year, dealing with some injuries, offensively, the scrutiny that goes on with him behind the plate all the time," manager Aaron Boone said. "I think this year is going to be a huge year of growth for him.
"Going through some of the challenges and adversity that he went through, I think is going to make him a better player. He's spent a lot of time in Tampa this winter. He's already in very good shape, and I feel like he's going to come back and have a really great season for us on both sides of the ball."
Sanchez tied for the Major League lead with 16 passed balls in 2017, then paced the Majors with 18 this year despite only catching 76 games. Cashman countered that by stating that Sanchez is an "exceptional" game-caller and is "terrific" at shutting down opponents on the bases.
"The main deficiency of his game is blocking, which does show up every now and then," Cashman said. "It's not something that we run and hide from, but in terms of boxes checked about what he does well, it's so overwhelming on one side of the ledger versus the other side of the ledger."
Cashman said that Sanchez has returned to the Dominican Republic following rehabilitation on the shoulder, and though he will be brought along slowly in Spring Training, the Yankees are banking on Sanchez being behind the plate for the March 28 season opener against the Orioles.
"He's pretty damn good," Cashman said. "That's why in the summer we were doubling down and tripling down on him, all the words that we were using. I think it showed and paid off; people saw him coming out of the abyss. He was swinging the bat well and not getting anything to show for it early in the year and that turned into a mind game."
Though he was able to return to the lineup in September, Aaron Judge said that his right wrist would not completely heal until the offseason. Boone said that he believes the slugger will be primed for more consistent results in 2019.
"I think he'll be physically a little bit better," Boone said. "I think every player that goes through the wear and tear of the season [needs rest], especially when you've dealt with injuries that he's obviously just getting over. But the totality of injuries that accumulate over the course of years, you benefit a lot from the rest, and recuperation you get in the winter. And I think Aaron is one of those guys that will absolutely benefit from that.
"Obviously he finished the season very strong for us in his play. So I'm not worried about anything with him. But I am excited that he's going to have a normal offseason as far as going into the offseason fairly healthy, and hopefully that benefits him and his ability to get ready for this season."
One week after Yankees president Randy Levine opined that his club was "as good as the Red Sox right now," Boone said that any gap between his team and the defending World Series champions could be erased between this date and Opening Day.
"As we sit here today, we're going to be a little bit different two months from now as we head into Spring Training; I'm sure they will," Boone said. "I'm sure all these teams that are here are trying to improve in varying degrees. Obviously they were an unbelievable team this year, a monster.
"But we also understand that we feel like we're very much on level ground with them. We've obviously got areas that we need to improve on to close that gap, but we feel like when we're at our best, we're as good as any team in the world."
He said it
"I've got a lot of lines out. We're still fishing. We're trying to catch a very particular type of fish in very particular types of categories. If not, we'll bring the boat back to dock and set her back out tomorrow, and drop our lines again." -- Cashman
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007.