As a Minnesota sports fan, it’s very easy to be pessimistic about almost every move the Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Wild, and Minnesota Timberwolves make. We’ve seen, time and time again, the hometown franchises make mistakes that have resulted in missed opportunities and lost seasons.
One of the Twins’ most recent moves could be viewed in that pessimistic light as well. Trading Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Ben Rortvedt for Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela seems like nothing more than a typical salary dump by a Pohlad-owned franchise. This feels like a bit of a downer, but let’s look at the return for a second.
Gio Urshela is who he is as a player. He’s a solid infielder who is great in pinch hit situations but can struggle on defense. The Twins knew what they were getting there. Gary Sanchez, on the other hand is someone who we should dig into a little deeper.
Could Gary Sanchez see a career resurgence with the Minnesota Twins in 2022?
In 2014, Gary Sanchez was the top prospect in the New York Yankees system, with a strong arm, power, and the ability to hit well for contact, he had all the tools teams look for in catchers. For his first two seasons in the bigs, the scouting report seemed to be dead on.
He finished runner-up to Michael Fulmer in Rookie of the Year voting in 2016 (though he would have won had he been able to play in more games). He followed that season up with a year where he slashed .278/.345/.531 and hit 33 homers, earning an All-Star nod and taking home the Silver Slugger award at the end of the year. He looked like a star on the rise…until he wasn’t.
The very next year, Sanchez’s season was marred by injuries and ineffectiveness, and while he still managed 18 homers, his issues as a hitter became more noticeable. His strikeout and defensive issues didn’t technically get worse, but when you’re not hitting at a high level, things can get bad.
He put together another All-Star season in 2019 with 34 homers and a .841 OPS, but he again didn’t hit for average and his defense got even worse. 2020 and 2021 saw his power slide a little as well, leading to his exodus from New York.
Before I continue, I want to point out three disclaimers:
- No. 1-Mitch Garver is a better catcher (offensively and defensively) than Gary Sanchez.
- No. 2-The Twins are worse since making this trade, and despite optimism about adding more talent or a rebound from Sanchez, this is still not a great deal.
- No. 3-A massive turnaround from Sanchez is’t likely.
Now that those three disclaimers are out of the way, Gary Sanchez being traded to Minnesota could be the very best thing for him as a catcher, hitter, and person, a move that could result in him seeing his career bounce back a little bit.
There are three reasons for this. First, Sanchez will be more comfortable a little further from the harsh New York City lights. When he burst onto the scene in 2016, Yankees fans expected him to be the next Yogi Berra. When he wasn’t, fans were merciless. It’s VERY clear Sanchez is excited for a fresh start.
In Minnesota, Sanchez is viewed as a backup catcher/designated hitter. Fan expectations are low, and he’s on a reasonable contract. Minnesota Twins fans are notoriously hard on management and ownership, but aren’t as harsh to players. This, combined with a team that features several Spanish-first speakers will help Sanchez feel more at ease. He’ll play better for that reason alone.
The second reason is that even though Sanchez isn’t expected to be the primary catcher here, the Minnesota Twins have done a terrific job at helping catchers improve their defense. They likely won’t turn Sanchez into Yadier Molina, but they may be able to minimize his weaknesses a little bit and help him tweak his game a bit.
The final reason will be Sanchez’s ability to see more time in the designated hitter role. The Minnesota Twins don’t have a Nelson Cruz-type player on this team, someone who can only DH. This is fantastic news for Sanchez.
If there are games where Ryan Jeffers is behind the dish and Sanchez has the ability to just focus on hitting, he would likely produce far better than when he has to focus on catching responsibilities in addition to batting.
There are absolutely no assurances that Gary Sanchez will return to All-Star form in Minnesota, as the worst case here is he sees another 2020-level season. Even in that situation though, the Twins are off the hook at the end of the year. If things break right for him though, the Twins may have gotten a good player for cheap.