Yankees’ actions speak louder than words ahead of Gary Sanchez decision: Sherman

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Recently Aaron Boone defended Gary Sanchez, citing that the catcher has “been unfairly criticized.”

Which is really quite a trick when you think about it because the harshest criticism of Sanchez in 2020 came from the Yankee manager. That is Boone, by the way.

Boone has shown in his three seasons that he would sooner parade through The Bronx in a full Red Sox uniform than even ebb toward an unflattering remark about a Yankee. So actions are Boone’s words when it comes to his players.

And in actions, Boone revealed he had lost faith in the player he has publicly defended more than any other as Yankee manager.

After all, the Yankees only played seven important games last year, since it was understood they were in expanded playoffs before every team had thrown a pitch in 2020. In those games against the Indians and Rays, Sanchez started twice and hit ninth. If a refresher course is needed, there is no tenth.

The next alternative is not starting, which is what otherwise befell Sanchez. In five of the most vital Yankee games of the season, including the only two elimination games, Sanchez was replaced by Kyle Higashioka, who until that point was most famous for writing a diary for this newspaper during the COVID-19 shutdown.

In a phone conversation Tuesday, Boone said he did not see hitting ninth in the Yankee lineup as an insult considering the depth of talent. He also insisted Higashioka had earned playing time as “an elite receiver” who was hitting well.

Still, someone has to hit second, third, fourth and fifth in the Yankee lineup and Sanchez, his .147 average and 36 percent strikeout rate batted ninth. Plus, Aaron Judge struggled in the postseason, and Boone kept him hitting second in the lineup every day. All while he elevated a 30-year-old Quadruple-A catcher with 52 regular season starts spread over four seasons to play the Yankees’ biggest games of 2020 rather than Sanchez.

It is pertinent to the moment because by 8 p.m. Wednesday the Yankees have to sign Sanchez, tender him a 2021 contract, trade him or let him become a free agent. Indications were they would make the $5 million-ish decision to retain Sanchez. That would be yet another double down on Sanchez, who at 28 next year should be in his prime. But last he was seen, he was a set of skills in search of a full player. He hits the ball hard when he hits it. He throws the ball powerfully, though too often with the accuracy of a fifth-string Broncos quarterback. He cares more than the public perception, but is hurt by hangdog body language.

“I do believe in the player because his talent is extraordinary; he has really great talent,” Boone told The Post. “He has shown it to us throughout his career. Obviously, this year was really tough and difficult — a struggle. The challenge is going to be finding that consistency and hopefully we can unlock that.”

Asked if after three seasons as his manager if he believed Sanchez truly could unlock that consistency, Boone said: “I do believe that.”

This fits a pattern in which the Yanks seem to be trying to talk themselves into Sanchez as much as sell him to reporters and the public. It was bizarre, for example, how out of his way Gerrit Cole went initially in his first Yankee season to praise Sanchez. Mostly unprompted, as if he were attempting to pump up the catcher or was following a script provided by the Yankees to bolster a fragile psyche. That lasted all the way up to Higashioka becoming the ace’s personal catcher in September and October.

As part of his interview on YES last week, Boone said, “I think at times (the criticism is) over the top and people are blinded by some of the things that he’s done really well.” Except, again, it was Boone himself who saw enough of the bad stuff to flip-flop catchers in the playoffs. Perhaps most importantly, Brian Cashman – long an ardent defender of Sanchez – refused to call him the No. 1 catcher heading into 2021 when last the GM publicly spoke about him in October.

Do the Yankees think that the criticism of Sanchez, namely his ability to block balls, is overstated and overrated? Yes. But they also recognize, fair or not, that Sanchez’s defensive miscues and ever growing non-competitive at-bats have become a soap opera around the team. And the chances that Sanchez will make the soap opera stop – unlock the consistency that Boone spoke about – is what, 25 percent? 30?

The Yanks appear willing to play those poor odds again. They want to believe in his upgrades as a game caller and pitch framer will coalesce with the thunder in his bat and the lightning in his arm to form the kind of player that Boone not only praises, but plays in the biggest games of the year.

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