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2018 was a year to forget for Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. In addition to his well-documented struggles behind the plate, he batted just .186/.291/.406 with 18 homers in 89 games while missing significant time due to a nagging groin injury. We now have additional context for his struggles.
It turns out that Sanchez also dealt with an issue to his left (non-throwing) shoulder. In fact, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Wednesday that it has been bothering him dating back to late in the 2017 season. Sanchez received one injection at that time to help alleviate symptoms and two more this year, but the discomfort was still present in his workouts this week in Florida, leading to surgery on Thursday.
The procedure involved removing debris from the AC joint in his shoulder and will require three months of recovery time, but the expectation is that Sanchez will be ready to go for the start of spring training. If he isn’t, Austin Romine and Kyle Higashioka are the top internal options behind the plate. The Yankees signed catcher Ryan Lavarnway to a minor league contract on Thursday for some additional insurance.
Sanchez hit .284/.354/.568 with 53 homers in 175 games between 2016-2017, so it’s fair to assume that the injuries played a part in his struggles this year. J.T. Realmuto will probably go into 2019 as the top fantasy catcher no matter where he ends up, but Sanchez won’t be far behind if he’s progressing well in the spring. Defensive issues aside, it’s hard to ignore his potential and situation in fantasy leagues.
Smith Returns to Seattle
Mallex Smith’s second stint in Seattle is already longer than his first one. The Mariners officially acquired Smith and minor league outfielder Jake Fraley on Thursday, with the Rays receiving catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Guillermo Heredia, and left-hander Michael Plassmeyer in return.
Smith was a member of the Mariners for a couple of hours back in January of 2017 as part of a trade with the Braves, but he was quickly flipped to the Rays in a deal for left-hander Drew Smyly. That didn’t work out so well, as Smyly required Tommy John surgery in mid-2017 and never threw a pitch for the club. Assuming Smith sticks around longer this time, he should serve as the regular center fielder and leadoff man, leaving Dee Gordon as the primary second baseman and Robinson Cano in more of a roving role.
Smith is coming off a breakout season with the Rays where he batted .296/.367/.406 over 141 games while ranking third in the majors with 40 steals. The speedster won’t be a free agent for another four years, but he was deemed expendable by the club with Tommy Pham, Kevin Kiermaier, and Austin Meadows projected to be regulars in the outfield in 2019. The newly-acquired Heredia can now take on a fourth-outfielder role.
Zunino hit .251 with 25 homers and an .840 OPS in 124 games in 2017, but he regressed with .201/.259/.410 batting line and 20 homers in 113 games this past season. He suffered an oblique injury toward the end of spring training and told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times that it “set him back.” He’s hopeful for a rebound with improved health, but his massive strikeout rate is always going to cut into his batting average.
Even with the dip in production with the bat, Zunino still proved valuable with his contributions behind the plate. He was named as the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award winner at catcher on Wednesday. Nick Ciuffo and Michael Perez were the top internal options behind the plate prior to Thursday's trade, so the Rays have to be feeling a lot better about their situation. Zunino made $2.975 million in 2018 and still has two years of arbitration remaining.
With reports of an impending sell-off involving some established players, this was the first move in what could be a very active winter for the Mariners on the trade front. We think general manager Jerry Dipoto is equal to the task.
Silver Slugger Awards Announced
The annual Silver Slugger Award winners were announced on Thursday, recognizing the best offensive player at each position (including three outfielders) in both leagues. Winners are determined by MLB managers and coaches.
We saw some history with this year’s announcement, as Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez won Silver Slugger Awards at DH and as an outfielder. He’s the first player ever to win for two positions in the same season. Just for reference, Martinez made 93 starts out of the DH spot this season and 57 (32 in left field and 25 in right) in the outfield. But that was apparently enough for him to win. Okie dokie. It probably won’t satisfy those who think he got snubbed as a finalist for AL MVP, but it’s something.
The full list of winners...
Jose Abreu 1B, White Sox
Jose Altuve 2B, Astros
Francisco Lindor SS, Indians
Jose Ramirez 3B, Indians
Salvador Perez C, Royals
Mookie Betts OF, Red Sox
Mike Trout OF, Angels
J.D. Martinez OF & DH, Red Sox
Paul Goldschmidt 1B, Diamondbacks
Javier Baez 2B, Cubs
Trevor Story SS, Rockies
Nolan Arenado 3B, Rockies
J.T. Realmuto OF, Brewers
David Peralta OF, Diamondbacks
Nick Markakis OF, Braves
German Marquez SP, Rockies
Quick Hits: The Pirates brought back infielder Jung Ho Kang on a one-year, $3 million contract … According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Cardinals are “not as interested” in Bryce Harper “as those on the outside want them to be” … Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Dodgers are “confident” Corey Seager (elbow, hip) will be ready for the start of spring training … Jon Heyman of FanCred Sports hears that the Mets have “checked” in on free agent catcher Martin Maldonado … Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle writes that Buster Posey is walking without crutches as he continues his rehab from August hip surgery … Jon Heyman of FanCred Sports hears that the versatile Marwin Gonzalez has drawn interest from “everyone but one team” in the early days of free agency … Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said at the GM Meetings that he expects non-tender candidate Travis d’Arnaud (elbow) to be ready for Opening Day … The Rangers signed catcher Jett Bandy to a minor league contract …
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