Jordan Montgomery pitches vs. Gary Sanchez before Yankees ALDS matchup
During the Yankees’ practice before their ALDS matchup against the Twins, Jordan Montgomery threw against Gary Sanchez.
Pete Caldera, Staff Writer, @pcaldera
MINNEAPOLIS – As breakups go, this wasn’t necessarily a bad one.
With the New York Yankees and Gary Sanchez, the tough part was always about how to make it work.
By the end, everything seemed forced.
The Yankees were putting up with Sanchez’s substandard defense because of his offensive upside, but ultimately that reasoning collapsed.
With a .187 batting average, .698 OPS and soaring strikeout rate over his final two Yankees seasons, even the staunchest Sanchez advocates had to acknowledge the burden of his presence in pinstripes.
An ever-present cloud around the Yankees was lifted with Sanchez’s trade to the Minnesota Twins. In turn, moving beyond the Bronx might have been the best thing for Sanchez’s career.
“Maybe,’’ Sanchez said through an interpreter, when asked if the change of scenery had been personally beneficial.
“I got traded and then I got this opportunity.’’
Appearing relaxed and sporting a beard – something he could never do in pinstripes – Sanchez was in the Twins’ lineup at catcher Tuesday night, preparing to play against the Yankees for the first time.
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A happier place
Never the most quotable of players, it’s still difficult to gauge how much of a weight was lifted from Sanchez becoming an ex-Yankee.
Sanchez, 29, was a teenager when he signed with the Yankees, and he stayed in the organization for 11 seasons, right up to the start of his free agent walk year.
“I think it was a good trade for him,’’ said infielder Gio Urshela, who sees Sanchez having a better chance of maxing out his potential in Minnesota.
On March 13, Urshela was sent with Sanchez to the Twins, in exchange for infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa, catcher Ben Rortvedt, third baseman Josh Donaldson and the $50 million remaining on Donaldson’s contract.
Urshela found the late-night trade “confusing’’ at first, since that was the day manager Aaron Boone had announced that Urshela was his starting shortstop.
That was never going to fly in the Bronx, where Urshela was much better suited at third base.
Kiner-Falefa isn’t a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop, but he has solidified a position that wasn’t nearly as stable with Gleyber Torres last season.
And once GM Brian Cashman swung another trade with the Texas Rangers to get Jose Trevino, the Yankees finally became untethered from their obsession with offense-oriented catchers.
The tandem between Trevino and Kyle Higashioka – plus a much more stable team defense overall – has greatly contributed to the Yankees’ MLB-leading 2.74 ERA entering Tuesday.
Sanchez arrived at this series batting .229 with seven homers, 27 RBI and a .735 OPS in 43 games, essentially splitting time between catcher and designated hitter.
With an OPS-plus of 114, this is Sanchez’s best offensive season since 2019, and there isn’t the constant drumbeat about his defensive shortcomings on the AL Central-leading Twins.
As his manager during the previous four seasons, Aaron Boone said he “felt like I sat up here defending’’ Sanchez constantly.
Yet, “no matter what he was going through, he was always a great teammate. He really cared. He worked,’’ Boone said. “And I felt like that wasn’t always understood or appreciated.’’
“I’m not a Yankee anymore”
Across the way, Sanchez sees that he has left a runaway first place team.
There’s be “a lot of adrenaline’’ playing against the Yanks this week, “but at the same time, I’m excited to see a lot of my friends on the other side.’’
Until he drove from Tampa, Fla., down to Fort Myers three months ago, Sanchez’s entire professional life was spent in pinstripes and there was “an adjustment, leaving a lot of my friends behind…just changing my mentality that I’m not a Yankee anymore.’’
And yet, “Minnesota has been very welcoming to me – my coaches, my teammates, the front office,’’ though Sanchez admits he misses the chefs that prepared meals in the Yankees’ clubhouse.
The Yankees gave him his first opportunity. The Twins have given him a new lease.
“I’m a Twin,’’ Sanchez said. “Turn the page. Look forward.’’
Pete Caldera is the Yankees beat writer for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to all Yankees analysis, news, trades and more, please subscribe today and download our app.