Chilling Gary Sanchez comparison captures his Yankees collapse: Sherman

When Masahiro Tanaka threw seven shutout innings to help save the Yankees season in Game 3 of a 2017 Division Series, Gary Sanchez was his third place-hitting All-Star catcher.

The only run of that game was produced when Greg Bird led off the bottom of the seventh at Yankee Stadium with a left-on-left homer versus Andrew Miller.

The Yankees, who trailed two-games-to-none in that best-of-five, won that Oct. 8, 2017 game, then two more to rally into an ALCS against the Astros in which Bird and Sanchez were age 24 and Aaron Judge was 25. The Yankees had brought that trio up in consecutive seasons — Bird in 2015, Sanchez in 2016 and Judge in 2017 — to great success.

Even losing in seven games to the Astros did not dim the belief that the Yankees had the middle of their order locked in for at least the next five years.

But life comes at you fast.

Judge is still central to the Yankees, initiating the offense with a two-run, first-inning homer in Tuesday’s Game 1, a 12-3 rout of the Indians. Bird, though, did not even play in 2020. The Yankees finally gave up on him after last season, too many injuries, too little production. The Rangers signed him to a minor league deal, but he could not even make a 30-man roster out of spring training 2.0. And just when it looked as if he might get a chance with the injury-crushed Phillies, Bird contracted COVID-19 and that opportunity vanished.

As for Sanchez, he is still around, at least in name. He did not start Game 1 as the Yankees went instead with Kyle Higashioka, who hasn’t even proven yet he is a major league backup catcher. And when Tanaka started against the Indians in a playoff contest for the first time since 2017, in Wednesday’s Game 2, Sanchez was the ninth place-hitting catcher.

Aaron Boone explained this was no knock on Sanchez because when the Yankees lineup is healthy the parts are all interchangeable between the fifth and ninth spots and there was a strategy to break up the lefty bats of Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner and … Well, what does it matter? The Yankees are in the propaganda business when it comes to Sanchez, talking up a can of spam as if it were a filet mignon.

Actions — in this forum — matter more than words. You hit your worst hitter ninth. That is where Higashioka batted Tuesday and that is where Sanchez was placed for Game 2. And not because he was a good choice among many to hit higher.

Boone tried to sell that Sanchez was much better than his numbers, particularly over the last month. That Sanchez has had a bunch of line drives die for outs and that he was chasing less and walking more. But, again, a whiff of reality. There were 175 players who batted at least 100 times this year. Sanchez at .147 had the worst average. He needed nine of those bad-luck liners to fall just to get to the Mendoza Line. And it is hard to get line drives to fall when you strike out in 36 percent of your at-bats (sixth worst in the majors).

And, remember, Sanchez is only playing because of his offense. Yep, the Yankees happy talk his defense too. But — once more — actions, not words. Early this season, Gerrit Cole unsolicited kept publicly praising Sanchez as if trying to fill the catcher with confidence or talk himself into a bad marriage. Eventually, Sanchez was jettisoned for Higashioka and — lo and behold — Cole began pitching like a $324 million ace again. The Cole flattery tour has not been heard in quite a while.

Will Sanchez appear on lists for the best of exit velocity and homer distance? Yep. When the ball squares on his bat good things can happen. Just it is not frequent any more like in 2016 and ’17. He seems to lose confidence easily. He appears overloaded with more data to help coax pitchers through games and new low-down squats to steal strikes at the bottom of the zone. It is like the more the Yankees try to improve Sanchez, the worse the player they get. The ball gets by him a lot, whether he is swinging or trying to catch.

So when does Sanchez get the Bird treatment and the Yankees fly in a different direction? His trade value already has been squandered. The Yankees would not give him up for J.T. Realmuto after the 2018 season, valuing Sanchez similarly or better with two extra years of control before free agency (after the 2022 season). They are unlikely now to pivot and spend big on Realmuto as a free agent this offseason.

Could they even trade Sanchez for anything now? Would they think of non-tenderng him? Or will they keep going trying to rediscover 2016-17? Does it matter what they say because what they are doing with Sanchez tells the clearer story.

Not playing at all in Game 1 of a playoff series. Hitting ninth in Game 2. There is not much further to fall.

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