Gary Sanchez Lastly Finds a Residence as He Heads to San Francisco

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY sports

We can officially stop worrying about Gary Sanchez: the two-time all-star catcher has signed a minor league contract with the Giants. Ken Rosenthal broke the news on Friday, reporting that Sanchez will be heading to the team’s spring training facility in Scottsdale before being assigned to a partner (believed to be Triple-A Sacramento). The deal is $4 million, prorated for the time Sanchez spends with the big club, and includes an opt-out if he doesn’t call up by May 1.

Among free agents who earned at least a 1.0 WAR last year, Sanchez is the latest to find a home. He received interest from few teams over the winter and failed to improve his stock when he played for the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic, where he had just six plate appearances and went 0-on-5 with a walk and two strikeouts. It looked like he would remain in limbo, waiting to sign with the team that needed a catcher due to injury. Instead, Sanchez goes to a San Francisco team that could certainly use some help behind the court — one that ranks 27th as a catcher in our Positional Power Rankings — but already has a very clear Plan A in mind: Joey Bart.

That hope was only lightly dashed when Team Bart relied on the IL on Sunday with a minor back strain. He is not expected to miss much time and the team recalled pitcher Sean Hjelle to take his place, leaving Roberto Pérez and Blake Sabol the only catchers on the active roster. Pérez, 34 and known for his glove, signed a minor-league contact with the club after spending 2022 in Pittsburgh. Sabol, whom Cincinnati picked up from Pittsburgh in the Rule 5 draft before selling to San Francisco, started in left field on Opening Day; His defense is worrying enough that the catcher is unlikely to be his main position.

Despite Bart’s presence, the Giants entered spring training with an open contest for the berth. “There’s a mindset where you give the guy the job and you get away with it,” Farhan Zaidi told reporters. “This is maybe the other school where we have other good opportunities and we want someone to take the reins and be the guy. We definitely hope Joey makes it and he’ll certainly get the opportunities.” The former No. 2 pick and one-time heir of Buster Posey seemingly just let the reins dangle (or whatever reins do when nobody’s taking them). ); Pérez served as the starting catcher on opening day.

With Sanchez in the mix, the team’s ground got a little higher at the catcher. His game features light tower power and enough swing-and-miss to air-condition a small island nation. He’s always run hot and cold as a hitter, but even if you throw away his 69 wRC+ in the short 2020 season, the hots are a lot tepid than they used to be:

According to Baseball Savant, Sanchez was worth -8.1 runs against sliders in 2022, a weakness that pitchers exploited mercilessly, throwing them 30.6% of the time; only Javier Báez and Nick Castellanos saw sliders more often. Midway through the 2022 season, Sanchez’s groundball rate skyrocketed, which isn’t ideal for a catcher who runs like a catcher. Fittingly, he faced a defensive shift 70.5% of the time last year (although his wOBA against the shift was 44 points better than against a traditional defense).

Still, Sanchez just pulled off a 49.3% hard hit rate and an average exit speed of 90.5 mph, so it’s not like he’s lost his power, and he can still hit fastballs with ease evade. It’s entirely possible that a few more of those hard-hit balls will find places this year, or that his walk or strikeout rates will get a little closer to his career norms. Additionally, with 89 wRC+ in 2022, Sanchez was right on league average among catchers. Any setback from the worst batting line of his career (except 2020) makes him an above-average batsman by the standards of the position; Steamer and ZiPS project it to a wRC+ of 95 and 112, respectively.

Sanchez makes an interesting case study for Nichols’ Law of Catcher Defense. Emerging as a thug, his defense was much maligned; Depending on where you got your catch stats from, that reputation was probably a bit unfair. But once his hitting eased, the reputation didn’t seem to improve as much as it should have. Over the past three seasons, Sanchez has caught 1,915 innings, the eighth-most in baseball, and he was worth -1.4 framing runs. In terms of defense, we’ve got him level with Will Smith on 16 defensive runs in that period. However, DRS docks him due to his rCERA – that’s Catcher ERA Runs – 10 runs and he’s last in that stat over the period. Looking at Sanchez’s slow free-agent market in February, Jay Jaffe noted that 2022 was the first season Baseball Prospectus had rated him as a net positive at framing, blocking and throwing.

In short, Sanchez is a relatively durable option that should be an average catcher, whether crouched behind the plate or off it. He has some advantages on offense and some disadvantages on defense. No one expects him to be the phenomenon who posted a 143 wRC+ in his first two seasons with the Yankees, but as a right-handed power hitter whose HR/FB just hit a career-low 13.3%, he might be a little of it benefit from the move from Target Field to Oracle Park. He is 30 years old and could certainly help a ball club.

All in all, this is a low-risk move for the Giants. The bigger question, which Grant Brisbee has researched in depth at The Athletic, is why they are in this position in the first place. Bart is only 25 years old and has 133 league games under his belt. It’s a developmentally sensitive issue, and its success is by no means certain. Pérez is largely a career backup, having appeared in just 97 games over the past three years. Sabol isn’t really playable as a regular catcher, but his Rule 5 status means he needs to stay on the list. During the offseason, the team took a beating on Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa, but San Francisco seemed perfectly content to roll into the 2023 season with no real plan at the catcher position other than hoping someone during of spring training shone.

It’s entirely possible that the Giants will end up starting Sanchez. It’s also possible that they prefer his racquet to Pérez’s gauntlet in a backup role, a compromise between offense and defense they’ve made elsewhere on the lozenge. In the meantime, everything points to Bart’s injury being minor, but Sanchez is a pretty nifty insurance plan.

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