google.com, pub-3283090343984743, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0
The Brewers are reportedly signing free agent catcher Gary Sánchez to one-year deal with mutual option with a $7MM guarantee. The club’s 40-man roster is full and a corresponding roster move will be required when the deal is made official.
Sánchez, 31, had a frustrating time getting a job last year but made the most of it when he finally got one. He initially signed a minor league deal with the Giants but opted out when that club wouldn’t give him a roster spot. He landed another minor league deal with the Mets and did get called up to the big leagues but was quickly put on waivers.
A claim by the Padres was the opportunity he needed. He went on to take 260 plate appearances over 72 games with San Diego, hitting 19 home runs in that brief time. His batting average and on-base percentage were low, as his fairly normal for him, but his .218/.292/.500 batting line in that time nonetheless translated to a wRC+ of 115 indicating he was 15% better than the league average hitter.
With Sánchez, the power has always been there, but his defense has been more questionable throughout his career. He seems to have improved over time, however. Defensive Runs Saved has given him positive grades in each of the past two years, including a +7 mark in 2023. Each of FanGraphs, Statcast and Baseball Prospectus considered his pitch framing to be a positive over the past two seasons. His throwing arm has always been considered strong with his blocking a weakness, though even his blocking grades have improved in the past few seasons as well.
His strong campaign in 2023 was cut short when he suffered a wrist fracture in early September. Between that and the late start, he only got into 72 contests with the Friars but still managed to produce 1.8 wins above replacement in the eyes of FanGraphs and 2.5 per the calculations of Baseball Reference.
In terms of intangibles, his tenure with the Padres overlapped with the breakout of Blake Snell last year. Through 10 outings last year, Snell had an earned run average of 5.04. But he posted a tiny 1.18 ERA over his final 22 starts, lowering his season ERA to 2.25 and earning himself a second Cy Young Award. Sánchez caught the first 18 of those 22 games, missing the last four due to the aforementioned wrist injury. Snell spoke positively of their relationship to Dennis Lin of The Athletic during the season.
Despite the strong season, there are concerns with Sánchez. As mentioned, he was a poor blocker earlier in his career. He’s never been a huge batting average or on-base guy, apart from the very early parts of his career. Strikeouts have occasionally been a problem, with his 26.8% career rate a few ticks north of typical averages. His power also eluded him in 2022, as he hit just 16 home runs in 128 games for the Twins that year.
But overall, the package has appeal. Apart from that power outage with the Twins, he’s always hit 20-35 home runs or has at least has been on pace to do so. The defense has been a struggle but has improved over time. In every full season dating back to 2016, he’s produced at least 1.3 fWAR. Even if you ignore the hot start to his career and look at 2018 to the present, he’s 10th among active catchers in fWAR.
He received interest from the Padres and Pirates this winter but will end up in an interesting landing spot with the Brewers. They already have a really good catcher in William Contreras. That perhaps suggests Sánchez will be a sort of backup catcher but part-time designated hitter. The right-handed-hitting Sánchez has fairly neutral platoon splits for his career but was excellent against southpaws last year. He hit .267/.304/.680 against lefties, 162 wRC+, but .194/.282/.406 against righties for a 90 wRC+.
The Brewers have a bunch of outfielders and Sánchez may have to split the DH time with them, but the platoon situation might work well there. Each of Christian Yelich, Garrett Mitchell, Sal Frelick and Jake Bauers hit from the left side. Perhaps Sánchez can give Contreras the occasional breather behind the plate while also taking some at-bats away from that group by slotting in as the DH against tough lefties. This signing may perhaps bode poorly for Eric Haase, who was signed by the Brewers in December. He’s generally considered a bat-first catcher but struggled badly at the plate in 2023. He can also play the outfield but the Brewers have tons of guys battling for jobs out there. Since he’s out of options, he may find himself squeeze off the roster at some point.
The Brewers have been quite active in recent weeks, signing Rhys Hoskins before flipping Corbin Burnes to the Orioles for Joey Ortiz, DL Hall and a draft pick, then signing Jakob Junis and now Sánchez. The subtraction of Burnes obviously weakens their rotation, along with the loss of Brandon Woodruff, who was non-tendered after requiring shoulder surgery. But the additions of Hoskins and Sánchez, along with the impending debut of center field prospect Jackson Chourio, could have their offense making up some of the difference.
The club only allowed 647 runs last year, the lowest in the majors, whereas their 728 runs scored was middle of the pack. Perhaps they will allow a few more runs this year but also score a few more. Then again, based on how busy they’ve been in the past couple of weeks, they may not be done making moves. Roster Resource pegs their current payroll at $111MM, well below last year’s $126MM figure.
Jon Heyman of The New York Post first reported that the Brewers were signing Sánchez and added the $7MM guarantee. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic first reported that there was a mutual option for 2025.