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Yankees GM Brian Cashman says Gary Sanchez had 'a horrible year' but expects a stronger 2021 season

Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez tosses his bat on

Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez tosses his bat on his grand slam against the Mets during the eighth inning of Game 2 in a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 30, 2020. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It seemed a little odd when Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez said in an ESPN story published on Dec. 28 that he "didn’t know why I wasn’t playing" in the 2020 postseason and added, "They never told me why I was benched."

Sanchez’s poor play in 2020 made it seem like not that much of a mystery. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman called Sanchez’s season "horrible" on Friday in an interview on WFAN’s "Moose & Maggie" show.

"I think the whole world knows why he was benched," Cashman said. "Whether he was told directly or not — I’m not saying he was or wasn’t — but the manager’s lineup card is an announcement in itself each day. You have to earn your keep to stay on that card.

"Whether he was told directly or not, I don’t care. It’s self-awareness at that point. You had a horrible year and lost your job at the most important time of the season. I’m not sure if an explanation is necessary. It is what it is, and your play speaks for itself. You play well enough to keep playing or you don’t."

Saying one of his own players — a player he decided to keep in the offseason — "had a horrible year" might not have been the most polite way for Cashman to phrase it. But there is no doubt that Sanchez had a historically bad season in 2020, when he had a .147/.253/.365 slash line, struck out in 36% of his plate appearances and lost his job to Kyle Higashioka in the postseason.

He had to get hot to hit .147, too. With 16 games remaining in the 60-game regular season, he was hitting .119.

Cashman doesn’t have to make nice with Sanchez, but manager Aaron Boone does. Boone said in a Zoom call with reporters earlier on Friday that he didn’t have a "you’re benched" conversation with Sanchez during the postseason because the manager never formally considered Sanchez benched.

"I think a little bit of that [ESPN] article, one of the big takeaways was the lack of communication about Gary's role in the postseason," Boone said. "I think a big reason for that was the postseason was a completely fluid situation. I made no decision to say, ‘Gary is benched.’ I was going home literally every night and discussing and sleeping on who I was going to start the next day . . . That’s why there was no, I guess, ahead-of-time conversation to say, ‘You're down,’ because he never really was. I feel like if we were able to advance, he probably would have been my Game 1 starter in the [ALCS]."

Boone said he spoke with Sanchez right after the season and again after the ESPN article appeared and added that there is no rift between manager and player. Sanchez, who played winter ball in the Dominican Republic to get his swing back, already is working out at the Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa, Florida, to prepare for the season, which still is scheduled to open on April 1.

"My relationship with Gary is a strong one, continues to be a strong one," Boone said. "I'm really excited about where he's at right now and his offseason and his preparation heading into camp. He's in Tampa now and I'm excited to see what he's going to do for us this year. I feel like he's in a really good frame of mind as we get ready to enter camp."

Cashman, too, said he expects big things from Sanchez in 2021 and has kept in touch with him during the offseason. Sanchez, 28, agreed to a non-guaranteed one-year, $6.35 million contract on Jan. 15.

"I know he's looking forward to proving last year was a fluke and we look forward to him justifying our continued commitment to him and his talent level," Cashman said on a Zoom call. "Because, obviously, we've invested our time, effort and money into him for good reason. We do believe in him."

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