LAS VEGAS -- New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman made one thing abundantly clear Tuesday: He already has his starting catcher on his roster.
On the same day when a report circulated suggesting the Yankees might be interested in trading for Miami Marlins catcher JT Realmuto in a move that would make their current catcher, the embattled Gary Sanchez, more of a part-time backstop and more regular designated hitter, Cashman issued firm support of his player.
"It would be hard not to have Gary Sanchez as our catcher," Cashman said, speaking to Yankees reporters in a private room at the winter meetings. "He's certainly someone that we've invested in and believe in and expect to be a part of this place moving forward."
Not only did Cashman confirm amid a flutter of trade chatter that Sanchez still had a home in the Bronx, but he made it known the catcher's everyday role would not be changing. Keeping Sanchez as his starting catcher is "part of our plan," Cashman said.
The GM has made similar statements before. Late this past season he said he was "doubling down" on expressing his desire to have Sanchez remain his catcher, despite the 26-year-old's struggles both blocking pitches and coming through offensively. He made similar remarks earlier this offseason, too.
The 2018 season wasn't a good one for Sanchez. He batted .186 in the regular season. He also led all catchers in passed balls with 18, despite appearing in only 76 games behind the plate, thanks to two stints on the disabled list for groin injuries.
Sanchez also played through a shoulder issue that has persisted since the 2017 season. Last month he underwent surgery to his non-throwing shoulder to clean up debris within the AC joint.
Cashman said Tuesday that the "heavy lifting" portion of Sanchez's post-surgery recovery has concluded. Last weekend, the catcher finished that set of rehab work at the Yankees' facility in Tampa, Florida. He will be spend the remainder of the offseason back in the Dominican Republic and rejoin the team at spring training.
"He'll come into camp ready to go," Cashman said, "and we'll quote-unquote 'protect him.'"
Cashman's comments of support were echoed Tuesday by Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who believes Sanchez's recent struggles will lead to upcoming successes.
"This year is going to be a huge year of growth for him," Boone said. "And going through some of the challenges and adversity that he went through is going to make him a better player."
Added Cashman: "He's, we believe, part of our solution. There's no problem with him from that perspective."
Between lauding the promise of Sanchez's power -- he had 18 homers in an injury-limited 2018 season and hit 33 the year before -- Cashman admitted some of his defense remains an area of concern.
"The main deficiency to his game is just blocking," Cashman said. "In terms of boxes checked about what he does good, it's so overwhelming on one side of the ledger versus the other side. We're always focused on trying to improve on any areas of deficiency with all of our players. Including him."