Gary Sanchez’s benching better late than never for Yankees

Amongst this terrible Yankees April, Gary Sanchez’s defense wouldn’t even sniff a “Top 10 concerns about this crappy-looking team” list.

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The irony comes in the reality that, amongst this terrible Yankees April, Gary Sanchez’s defense wouldn’t even sniff a “Top 10 concerns about this crappy-looking team” list.

Nevertheless, when Aaron Boone announced Tuesday that Kyle Higashioka “has just earned more playing time” behind the plate — at Sanchez’s expense, naturally — it ranked as profoundly unsurprising and rational.

In other words, better late than never. Worse late than non-tender, but the Yankees made their bed on that matter last December and now must lie in it.

“They’re obviously both going to play a lot, but it’ll be kind of a day-by-day thing that I’ll try and communicate as best I can,” Boone said, before the Yankees continued their Oriole Park at Camden Yards series with Baltimore, Higashioka catching Corey Kluber. You might recall that Sanchez publicly expressed his disappointment with Boone, ex post facto, about the way he lost the starting catching job to Higashioka last October.

If the Yankees’ widespread offensive collapse this season shocks, surely you’re far less fazed by the slash line that Sanchez brought to work Tuesday: .182/.308/.309, superior to last year’s ghastly .147/.253/.365. Hey, if every Yankee had improved his OPS-plus by 12 or more points from 2020 to 2021, as had Sanchez (from 70 to 82), the team might very well occupy the American League East penthouse. Alas, Sanchez belongs to a small club that also includes the demoted Tyler Wade (from 67 to 97), Mike Ford (from 38 to 64) and Higashioka (from 107 to an unsustainable yet impressive 242).

Higashioka represents the sort of feel-good story that, beyond his obvious improvement as a ballplayer, can elevate a club’s mood and soften a hardened, fed-up fan base. The Yankees’ seventh-round draft pick in 2008 (the same year they selected a high-school right-hander named Gerrit Cole in the first round), the 31-year-old took 10 years to reach the big leagues, 23 big league at-bats to notch his first hit (a home run) and four years to land a permanent roster spot with the Yankees. Watch him do something good in a game — one of the few players on this team for whom that’s not presently a difficult task — and you can see the joy his teammates feel.

Gary Sanchez
Steve Nesius

Sanchez, conversely, serves as a victim of his own early success in 2016, when he dominated the competition so thoroughly for those two months that one graying Post columnist (OK, it was me) described him as “the rookie you’d want most on your team for the next decade.” Yeesh. If Team X’s second catcher put up Sanchez’s numbers and was making, say, $1.5 million, you wouldn’t break a sweat over it. Sanchez, however, earns $6.35 million in a season when Hal Steinbrenner is staying under the luxury-tax threshold. Hence the Yankees must account for Sanchez’s inability to approach, offensively, the heights he reached as recently as two years ago.

Defensively? For what it’s worth, the 28-year-old has created fewer headaches, his passed balls down to zero (the wild pitches at a less impressive nine), and he stood at minus-1 defensive runs saved in 16 games played, meaning he had cost the Yankees one run for the season as per The Fielding Bible (Higashioka posted 1 DRS); last year he tallied minus-4 DRS in 41 games. Yet when you throw in the poor baserunning and the comfort that ace Gerrit Cole clearly feels pitching to Higashioka over Sanchez, the argument for Sanchez (who isn’t lazy, despite the perception) grows increasingly weaker.

Credit to the Yankees for sticking with and developing Higashioka, demerits for sticking with Sanchez. If it’s too late for do-overs, though, this playing-time makeover can only help the team weather this brutal storm.

This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Ken Davidoff

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