The Yankees answered one of the bigger questions of their offseason Wednesday by offering catcher Gary Sanchez a contract for 2021 before the 8 p.m. deadline to do so — suggesting, but not guaranteeing, that he will play in the Bronx next season.
Jonathan Holder was not offered a contract and thus becomes a free agent. Luis Cessa and Ben Heller avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deals.
In addition to Sanchez, eight other arbitration-eligible players were offered contracts: Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, Luke Voit, Chad Green, Clint Frazier, Miguel Andujar and Jordan Montgomery.
Sanchez, who turned 28 on Wednesday, was the name of greatest intrigue. He was a question mark because of his drastic every-other-year production schedule. An All-Star in 2017 and 2019, he struggled significantly in 2018 and 2020 — reaching a new low this past October, when he started only two of seven postseason games. Kyle Higashioka was behind the plate for the others.
His defense is consistently bad, but the Yankees have tolerated it when Sanchez has been arguably the best offensive catcher in baseball, combining for 67 homers in his pair of All-Star seasons. This year, when he hit .147 with a .253 OBP and .365 slugging percentage, they eventually gave up on him, at least temporarily.
General manager Brain Cashman said days after the Yankees’ season ended that it is "certainly a fair question" whether Sanchez would be the starting catcher heading into 2021.
"It’s one of the discussion points we’re going to have to focus on," Cashman said. "You saw a lot of unexpected performances throughout both leagues, from players that are capable of more. We have to determine if that [Sanchez’s year] was a byproduct of unique circumstances or more a reflection of what is to be expected [from the player] moving forward."
Sanchez being offered a contract Wednesday does not necessarily mean he will be with the Yankees next season. The team still is allowed to trade him or cut him during spring training (in which case they would be off the hook for all or most of his salary).
If the Yankees move on from Sanchez in the coming months, they will need a replacement. The top-heavy free-agent catcher market is led by J.T. Realmuto, then James McCann. The Yankees reportedly have talked with longtime Cardinals backstop Yadier Molina, also a free agent.
None of those offered contracts Wednesday have set salaries yet. The financials will be determined through the arbitration process in January (and February if needed), though players typically are guaranteed a raise from their previous season’s salary — which, for Sanchez, means making more than $5 million.
Technically, the Yankees also offered contracts to 21 prearbitration players, including Mike Tauchman, Tyler Wade and Jonathan Loaisiga. Those players, with fewer than three seasons spent in the majors, have virtually no negotiating leverage and more or less have to accept the salary the Yankees offer them.