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Great Moments in Trashing Star Players: Gary Sanchez Edition

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There’s a long and rich history, particularly in major markets like New York and Boston, of scribes trashing star players. Maybe not truly, unequivocally great players, but most superior talents with a flaw are eventually given the drive-by treatment by a columnist at some point or another.

Over the weekend it was Gary Sanchez‘s turn. He’s the subject of a Randy Miller column at NJ.com in which his big flaw — his pitch blocking — is used as the jumping off point for an anonymous scout to say some truly silly things:

“Sanchez has got a ways to go defensively, and I knew it all along,” a Major League scout for an opposing club told NJ Advance Media. “He gets very lazy. He wants to reach instead of shifting his feet. He tries to get away with stuff because of his strong arm.”

How big a problem is this?

“I’ll tell you what,” the scout said. “I’ll go on the record right now and say it: For the playoffs, you watch, Austin Romine will catch more than Sanchez. Romine doesn’t have much of an arm, but he’s the better catcher.”

At the outset, can we agree how hilarious it is that a guy who demanded anonymity for his fiery quotes says “I’ll go on the record right now . . .”? Because it’s pretty hilarious.

Beyond that, yes, I think anyone who has watched Gary Sanchez catch realizes that he’s not a good plate blocker. The scout chalks it up to laziness, which is oddly judgmental and presumably not based on anything other than a gut character judgment. I’m more inclined to say it’s a matter of technique that could likely be improved with work in spring training, but fine, I’ll stipulate that he’s not good at blocking and often reaches when he should be blocking.

Beyond that, however, this is ridiculous. While he’s not Yadier Molina behind the dish, Sanchez’s arm is obviously great. He’s no worse than an average pitch framer. And you know what? I’m guessing that if you polled every pitcher on the Yankees staff, they’d say they’d rather have that extra run support that comes from Sanchez’s homers than whatever is lost from the occasional passed ball. He’s hitting .280/.349/.541 with 30 homers despite missing a lot of time this year. He’s got 50 homers in his first 161 games as a major leaguer. You don’t find that in a catcher very often and when you do, you put him behind the plate unless and until he develops an actual phobia of catching pitches or bows his knees out, whichever comes first.

All of which is to say that, no, I do not believe that Austin Romine is going to catch more in the playoffs than Sanchez is. No matter what this off-the-record/on-the-record scout says. Or no matter what the columnist who sought him out, likely specifically to find an anti-Sanchez take, says.

Indians trade Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers

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The Cleveland Indians have traded two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers. In exchange, Texas is sending center fielder Delino DeShields and pitcher Emmanuel Clase to the Indians. There are reports that the Indians will be getting more than just those two players, but no word yet. The deal is pending physical.

Kluber made only seven starts this past year thanks to a broken arm and a strained oblique muscle. When he did pitch he was no great shakes, posting a 5.80 ERA and 44 hits in 35.2 innings. Those were freak injuries that do not suggest long-term problems, however, so there’s a good reason to think he’ll bounce back to useful form, even if it’s a tough ask for him to return to the form that won him the 2014 and 2017 Cy Young Award.

Before his injury-wracked 2019 campaign, Kluber pitched over 200 innings in each of his previous five seasons so mileage could be an issue. For his career he’s 98-58 with a 3.16 ERA (134 ERA+), a 2.99 FIP, and a K/BB ratio of 1,461/292 over 1,341.2 innings in nine big league seasons.

Unless there is cash coming from Cleveland in the deal, the Rangers will be paying him $17.5 million this year and a 2021 option of $14 million pursuant to the five-year, $38.5 million contract he inked with Cleveland before the 2015 season.

DeShields, 27, is a career .246/.326/.342 hitter (76 OPS+) and that’s about how he performed in 2019 as well. He was demoted to Triple-A Nashville in May. Clase, who will turn 22 before next season, pitched 21 games, all but one in relief, for the Rangers in 2019 and will still be considered a rookie in 2020. He has been used mostly as a reliever in the minors as well.

Pending what else the Tribe is going to be getting, this appears to be a light return for a pitcher who, despite his 2019 injuries, should be expected to come back and be a workhorse. Unless there is some real talent coming back, in addition to DeShields and Clase, it would seem to be a salary dump for Cleveland and a steal for Texas. It is likewise perplexing how any of the many, many teams who could use starting pitching — the Angels and the Mets, among others, come to mind — could not top the package Texas offered.

As for the Indians, the commitment to Kluber for 2020-21 is $31.5 million if you exercise next year’s option, $18.5 million if you don’t. He’s one year and a freak injury removed from goin 20-7 with a 2.89 (150 ERA+), 0.991 WHIP, and 215 innings pitched. Cleveland is coming off 93 wins and should contend. Why you trade Kluber in that situation, regardless of the return, is a question they should have to answer to fans who expect to see winning baseball.