One of the hot button issues in the Joe Girardi firing was his relationship with Gary Sanchez, whose defensive gaffes behind the dish were obvious to all and earned him a rare calling out by Girardi in the press. Despite his occasional defensive woes, Sanchez was named as the number two catcher in MLB by Bleacher Report, just behind Buster Posey. This is high praise for the young catcher after his first full year in the big leagues, especially during a season wrought with growing pains.
Although Sanchez struck out more than the Yankees would have liked, he otherwise hit for extreme power. In 122 games, his slash line was .278/.345/.531 with 33 home runs. After missing month of the season early on due to injury, Sanchez’ offensive production was just what the Yankees were hoping for.
Despite the disappointment of 16 passed balls on the season, Sanchez’ defense wasn’t all bad. He posted a 38% caught stealing rate and, while there’s room for improvement with his framing, he did secure a solid 85.6% of in-zone pitches for strikes.
The question is, with the high caliber of Sanchez’ play in 2017, and with the lackluster offensive and defensive performances of Austin Romine and Kyle Higashioka, will the Yankees look to upgrade at the backup position in 2018?
If the Yankees look outside the organization next season for a back-up catcher, Alex Avila (30) is one of the top free agent catchers after a successful 2017 campaign with both the Tigers and the Cubs (after a midseason trade). He was ranked number 17 on Bleacher Report’s catcher position rankings for 2017. Avila has nine years in the league and would provide veteran leadership in the clubhouse. He played well in Detroit with 11 home runs, 32 RBIs, and a .272 batting average in 77 games. After the trade to the Cubs, he cooled a bit, hitting .239 with three home runs and 17 RBIs in 35 games. Avila was the most disciplined swinger in MLB in 2017 with an O-swing percentage of just 14.3. He averaged 90.7 mph in exit velocity and registered a hard hit rate better than anyone except J.D. Martinez. Avila swings almost exclusively at strikes, which is why he makes so much solid contact. On defense, he is reliable.
Romine served ably behind the plate in 2017; in fact, he became somewhat of a personal catcher to Masahiro Tanaka, who seemed more dominant with Romine behind the dish. However, Romine hit only .218 with two home runs in 80 games, while on the year, Avila hit .264 with 14 home runs. In Avila, the Yankees would be getting an offensive upgrade, perhaps even an occasional designated hitter, which would only make a lineup stacked with talent and power even more potent for what will surely be a championship run in 2018.