Yankees’ Gary Sanchez, Mets’ Steven Matz may soon be free agents

Yankees' Gary Sanchez, Mets' Steven Matz may soon be free agents

A free-agent market that is moving like mud going uphill is close to getting a very loud wake-up call this coming Wednesday, which could result in a flood of players being dumped into the free-agent pool.

Wednesday is the day by which major league clubs have to tender arbitration-eligible players a contract. If a player is not offered a contract, he becomes a free agent.

In the wake of clubs losing millions of dollars in the pandemic-impacted 2020 season, it is expected non-tenders will be way up and will give teams a chance to sign players to team-friendly deals.

An early indication of that was no team claiming lefty reliever Brad Hand, who was placed on waivers by the Indians following the season. Instead of picking up a $10 million option, the Indians gave Hand a $1 million buyout and made him a free agent. Had Hand been claimed, the club doing so would have had to pay him $10 million for the 2021 season. Hand, who will turn 31 in March, was a major league-best 16-for-16 in save situations in 2020 — yet $10 million for one year was deemed too rich for 30 teams.

The Yankees must decide what to do with catcher Gary Sanchez, who despite having a horrid season at the plate (.147 with 69 strikeouts in 159 at-bats) and not improving defensively, is in line for a raise through the arbitration process. Sanchez would have made $5 million for a full 2020 season, so he could get a bump to $6 million or more in arbitration if tendered a contract.

Gary Sanchez and Steven Matz
Gary Sanchez and Steven MatzGetty Images (2)

If Sanchez, who turns 28 on Wednesday, isn’t tendered and becomes a free agent, the Yankees could take him back at a lower salary or hold their breath he doesn’t hit 30 homers and drive in 90 runs someplace else.

Should Sanchez become a free agent and leave the only organization he has known since signing in 2009, the Yankees would need to add a catcher to go with Kyle Higashioka.

Long believed to be the favorite to bring back catcher J.T. Realmuto as a free agent, the Phillies’ desire to cut the payroll doesn’t seem to make that possible. Nor does the Yankees getting Philadelphia to bite on a trade for Sanchez before Wednesday.

As for the Mets, they have to decide what to do with pitchers Steven Matz, Robert Gsellman and Miguel Castro.

Matz, 29, made $5 million last season when he went a 0-5 with a 9.68 ERA in nine games (six starts). The lefty was 0-5 with a 10.17 ERA as a starter. Even with Steve Cohen’s vault filled with billions, the expected small bump that Matz would be in for might be too much.

The right-handed Gsellman, 27, didn’t record a decision in six games (four starts) and posted a 9.64 ERA. He made $1.23 million in 2020. Miguel Castro, a right-hander obtained from the Orioles in late August, made 10 relief appearances for the Mets and had a 4.00 ERA. Castro, 26 in late December, appeared in 26 total games and was 2-2 with a 4.01 ERA.

While the free-agent action has been slow, the Yankees remain the favorite to sign free agent DJ LeMahieu and could bolster their rotation by bringing back Masahiro Tanaka. It is possible those two moves are the only ones the Yankees, who Hal Steinbrenner said lost more money than any other team, will make, despite possibly needing a shortstop and a catcher and more rotation help.