Yankees could be forced into Mets risk with Gary Sanchez

The Yankees have a little over two weeks to see if there is a trade market for Gary Sanchez following a disastrous 2020 season, during which the two-time All-Star catcher batted .147 and lost his starting job to Kyle Higashioka in the postseason.

Dec. 2, which is Sanchez’s 28th birthday, is the deadline for teams to offer pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players a contract for next season. Any player who isn’t tendered, and there a lot of industry types who believe Sanchez won’t be, is a free agent.

Because of the financial baths MLB teams took due to COVID-19 preventing fan attendance, the list of non-tenders is expected to be deeper than normal and littered with talented players who are too expensive for teams to retain.

Had the pandemic not shortened the 2020 season, Sanchez would have made $5 million. Should the Yankees tender Sanchez he would likely get a slight raise through arbitration. Do the Yankees, who need to re-sign DJ LeMahieu, add at least one pitcher (Masahiro Tanaka?) and possibly find a shortstop if Gleyber Torres is moved from shortstop to second base, want to invest that type of money on Sanchez?

Finding a trading partner will be difficult because of Sanchez’s defensive deficiencies and a miserable year at the plate — where he struck out 64 times in 156 at-bats and posted career-low .618 OPS. Yet, as a free agent, there should be teams willing to believe Sanchez can bounce back. He did hit 10 homers and drove in 24 runs in 49 games this past season.

With the Mets needing a catcher, and if they fail to sign J.T. Realmuto, would the Yankees have to hold their breath should Sanchez move to Queens as a free agent? That’s likely to happen more so than the Phillies having an interest in Sanchez should Realmuto not return to Philly, even though Sanchez played for Joe Girardi in 2016-17.

“[Steve] Cohen could sign [George] Springer, LeMahieu and a catcher,’’ an industry executive predicted of the new Mets owner.

When the Marlins were shopping Realmuto following the 2018 season, they engaged the Yankees about Greg Bird and Sanchez but then dealt the catcher to the Phillies for catcher Jorge Alfaro, right-hander Sixto Sanchez, lefty Will Stewart and international slot money.

Now, with Alfaro and Chad Wallach behind the plate, would Derek Jeter, general manager Kim Ng and vice president of scouting and player development Gary Denbo make a play for Sanchez? Denbo ran the Yankees’ player development system from 2014-17 when Sanchez made the jump from high-end prospect to a feared right-handed bat in 2016-17.

Should Sanchez, an All-Star in 2017 and 2019, get dealt or leave as a free agent it doesn’t mean the 30-year-old Higashioka automatically becomes the Yankees’ No. 1 catcher. He has just 72 big league games of experience and though he put on a pitch-blocking clinic in Game 4 of the ALDS and is considered a defense-first catcher, Higashioka has never played more than 93 games in a season at any level of professional baseball. The right-handed hitting Higashioka has some power (three homers on Sept. 16 against the Blue Jays) but is a career .186 hitter. He hit .278 (5-for-18) in the postseason.

As for whom the Yankees would chase if Sanchez isn’t in the picture, future Hall of Fame catcher and free agent Yadier Molina has been linked to the Yankees but a two-year deal the 38-year-old is reportedly seeking might not be in the Yankees’ best interest. James McCann, 30, is a free agent and was an All-Star in 2019 for the White Sox.

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