Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential Low-Risk Trade Idea with the Yankees
By Noah Wright
With the New York Yankees seemingly fed up with Gary Sanchez, could the Pittsburgh Pirates take a low-risk flyer deal on the former all-star?
The Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees are more than familiar trade partners. Earlier this decade the Pirates acquired Francisco Cervelli and A.J. Burnett from the Yankees. Before that, the Pirates received Jose Tabata and Jeff Karstens from the Yankees.
Most recently, the Yanks acquired Jameson Taillon from the Pittsburgh Pirates this past offseason. The Pirates also have a long lineage of acquiring former Yankee catchers. Russell Martin, Chris Stewart, the aforementioned Cervelli, all played with the Yankees the year before their first season with the Pirates.
Right now, the Yankees seem pretty fed up with backstop Gary Sanchez. The struggling backstop has lost his starting role to Kyle Higashioka. But could this be an opportunity to take a low-risk flyer on a former AL All-Star who’s still fairly young, and bring in their fourth former Yankee catcher in the past 10 years?
Sanchez looked like a cornerstone for the Yankees for years to come in 2016-2017. Across his first two seasons in the Majors, Sanchez .284/.354/.568 with a .385 wOBA, 143 wRC+ and 53 home runs in just 747 plate appearances. Despite playing in just 175 total games, he was among the top 50 in home runs between the two seasons.
However, Sanchez has fallen on hard times.
The former All-Star is hitting just .156/.267/.351 with a .275 wOBA, 73 wRC+, and only a dozen home runs in his last 243 plate appearances. Recently, the Yankees stated that they are going to start giving more playing time to Kyle Higashoka.
Right now, Sanchez’s value is at its lowest, and that could mean that a team could take a low-risk flyer on him with the hope that he rebounds. But would it be worth it on the Pirates’ end?
The 28-year-old is currently owed $6.35 million for the 2021 season. A bit of a steep price for a player who has just 0.1 fWAR in his last 66 games played. However, if the Pittsburgh Pirates are willing to take on most, if not all of his salary, they may be able to get a prospect with Sanchez. Plus it’s not like it was that long ago Sanchez was at least a productive bat. In 2019, he hit .232/.316/.525 with a .346 wOBA, 116 wRC+ and a career-high 34 home runs in 446 plate appearances.
Another option would be to send back Gregory Polanco as a change-of-scenery type deal. Polanco is guaranteed at least $14.6 million this year. He has his base $11.6 million salary and a $3 million buyout or $12.5 million team option for 2022. Like Sanchez, Polanco hasn’t been the greatest of hitters the last few seasons. In his last 414 plate appearances, the outfielder is only hitting .201/.267/.377 with a .276 wOBA and 70 wRC+.
However, where would the Pirates play Sanchez if they were to acquire him? Unless Sanchez immediately reverts himself to 2016-2017 Sanchez, Jacob Stallings will not be moving out from behind the dish. He’s far and away a better defender than Sanchez and has even been a better hitter the last two seasons (.315 wOBA, 97 wRC+ in ‘20-’21). Even then, the defensive ability Stallings brings with a young pitching staff looking to build up confidence is potentially more beneficial than a top tier hitting catcher with well below average fielding.
They also can’t try Sanchez out at first base either. Colin Moran is swinging a hot bat to start 2021 with a .854 OPS, .366 wOBA and 133 wRC+ through his first 92 trips to the plate. Overall, he’s been trending upward the last few seasons and the Pirates aren’t about to take away playing time from him, even for a potential platoon bat.
If the universal DH was implemented in 2021 or guaranteed to return in 2022, then there may be a chance. However, with no DH, Sanchez would essentially be stuck in the same situation he is currently in with the Yankees. Sanchez would be stuck in a similar position Josh Bell was in in 2020. A guy without a real defined position.
The Pirates also likely wouldn’t want to deal Polanco in a change-of-scenery type deal, unless another worthwhile prospect comes with Sanchez. Right now, Polanco has been swinging a hot bat and if he continues to do so, the Pirates might be able to get something back more valuable than Sanchez in a change-of-scenery trade.
The only way I could see a deal involving the Pirates taking a low-risk flyer on Sanchez is if a prospect in the Yankees’ organization catches Ben Cherington’s eye and the Yankees are willing to include that prospect. However, aside from that, I do not see an opportunity for the Pittsburgh Pirates to take a flyer on Sanchez, nor do I see an opportunity for Sanchez to get more regular playing time in Pittsburgh. Maybe this can be revisited this off-season if the universal DH gets implemented.