Olney: Fixing Gary Sanchez one of New York Yankees' top offseason priorities

In 2018, Giancarlo Stanton's first spring training with the New York Yankees, a team staffer weighed the many strengths of the lineup. Sure, Stanton and Aaron Judge would hit a lot of home runs and draw their share of walks, and the Yankees expected young infielder Gleyber Torres to develop into an impact player. They loved the work ethic of Miguel Andujar.

"But the best hitter on the team," the staffer said, "is Gary Sanchez."

This was a view held in a lot of corners of the organization. Yes, there were questions about Sanchez's defense at catcher, and some concern about his conditioning, but the rock-solid part of his potential was his ability to do damage at the plate, beyond his remarkable power. Despite bearing the disadvantages of being a right-handed hitter and slow, Sanchez hit .299 in his rookie season, and .278 in his first full year.

Sanchez's performance in those first two years is important context for the team's surprise over his disintegration at the plate the past three seasons. Sanchez batted .200 in 244 games over the 2018-2020 seasons, for an adjusted OPS+ of 99 -- not nearly enough production to offset the struggles he's had defensively. The Yankees saw for themselves that Sanchez can be far more than an all-or-nothing slugger who mixes in an occasional home run among many strikeouts, but that's exactly what he was in the small sample size of 2020, when he had nine singles and 10 homers in 49 games, with 64 strikeouts.

What happened?