Before the Yankees brought Gary Sanchez back at a slight raise a year ago, they considered releasing the catcher they once thought of as a huge part of their future.
Heading into Tuesday’s 8 p.m. non-tender deadline, the organization is faced with a similar dilemma about Sanchez, who turns 29 Thursday.
They can either trade Sanchez, tender him a contract that would likely pay him around $8 million in arbitration or release him.
Executives are split on what they expect the Yankees to do, in part because catchers — even ones as flawed as Sanchez — are hard to come by.
He showed some signs of improvement last year, but still lost his starting job temporarily to Kyle Higashioka and didn’t play in the wild-card game in Boston, with Higashioka catching Gerrit Cole in the loss.
The Yankees have to decide again whether Sanchez is worth the investment. If they opted to not bring Sanchez back, there isn’t much else available.
“As of right now, Gary Sanchez and [Kyle] Higashioka are our catchers, unless we run into something we feel is an upgrade at that position,” general manager Brian Cashman said when asked last week about Sanchez’s status. “Catching is a very thin market. It was last year, and it’s that way again. That doesn’t preclude us from exploring.”
That market got thinner Monday night when Pittsburgh traded catcher Jacob Stallings to the Marlins in exchange for prospects.
Willson Contreras of the Cubs and Minnesota’s Mitch Garver are other potential trade targets for the Yankees.
And that’s not the only potentially difficult decision the Yankees will face Tuesday, with Luke Voit and Miguel Andujar also arbitration-eligible.
Voit was the game’s home run champion in 2020 and Andujar finished second in the voting for AL Rookie of the Year in 2018.
All three arbitration-eligible players have had rocky tenures with the Yankees but are due raises heading into 2022, even after all had disappointing seasons last year.
Voit and Andujar both had nightmarish seasons in 2021, with Voit sidelined by left knee surgery in spring training and bothered by injuries throughout the year.
He was finally shelved for good by another left knee injury in September, but by then he’d been supplanted at first base by Anthony Rizzo, who is a free agent.
Another name still on the market at first base is Freddie Freeman, who has yet to sign with the Braves again despite a stated desire to remain in Atlanta. His lefty swing would play well in The Bronx.
Matt Olson is a trade candidate from Oakland, as the A’s look to save money during a rebuild.
The Yankees also tried Andujar at first, but he was a mess last season, as well, with a .667 OPS in 162 plate appearances in the majors.
He’s been unable to stay healthy and doesn’t have a position on defense, but at 26, Andujar does have a minor league option remaining, so the Yankees could keep him around and send him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre again as he tries to rediscover the form he displayed as a rookie.
Chris Gittens, the hard-hitting 27-year-old who played 16 games with the Yankees last season, could also be non-tendered Tuesday.