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Saying goodbye to Hector Sanchez

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The long-time backup catcher for the Giants is in the White Sox organization now, so let's take the time to remark on just how weird his Giants career was.

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You aren't thinking about baseball right now. Rather, you shouldn't be. This is a holiday week, and if you aren't scurrying around being busy, you're sitting back and watching the other people scurry around. The flow of rumors is temporarily frozen, or at least trickling out like maple syrup.

Really, if you're reading McCovey Chronicles on December 21, you're a baseball addict. Look at you, all disheveled, cracking peanut shells on your own floor. Good for you, you poor thing.

So it's time to start Best Wishes Week. There are only three installments planned, but there are only three days until Christmas Eve, and there are only three Giants who have switched teams so far. (Edit: With the exception of Ryan Vogelsong, who probably gets his own week.) These three are good Giants, a term that's loosely defined as "players who won a World Series ring with the Giants, other than maybe Jose Guillen and a couple others."

The first Best Wishes for a Good Giant: Hector Sanchez.

★★★

When the Giants declined to offer Hector Sanchez arbitration, they weren't exactly ruling out a reunion. For the right money, in the right situation, it wasn't inconceivable that they would consider bringing him back. It never hurts to stash another catcher in Triple-A.

That possibility is dead, though. Sanchez is a White Sock. The Hector Sanchez Era is officially over.

And what a weird era it was.

Back in 2007, before the days of Buster Posey, before there was hope and joy, Sanchez was a 17-year-old catcher in the Dominican Summer League. Back then, there was nothing for Giants nerds to do in October but dig through the bowels of the minor league pages on The Baseball Cube, hoping to find a diamond in the rough. And there was a teenaged catcher putting up a .401 OBP with more walks than strikeouts.

It was just the DSL, though. He'd have to do it again before he became interesting. So the next season he went out and put up a .458 OBP with more walks than strikeouts. He came over to the States the following season, and had a .403 OBP in the Arizona League as a 19-year-old. He wasn't exactly young for the league, but the pattern was clear: What we had here was a patient catcher who didn't chase a lot out of the strike zone.

Well, it didn't turn out that way. As Sanchez advanced, the breaking balls got sharper, and the ability to lay off got worse. His development has always reminded me of two things: 1. Don't pay too much attention to rookie-league stats, and 2. Remember that poor patience and low walk rates don't always happen because the player wants to hack. Players want to get ahead in the count. It's just hard to do when the slider looks like a fastball to you for a split second longer than it does to someone else.

His age-20 season was very age-appropriate and a little encouraging. He hit .274/.336/.394 with five homers and 20 doubles in low Class-A, and his defense was reportedly an improving work in progress. So far, so good. He was someone to keep an eye on as he slowly progressed through the system.

The next year, he advanced a level and started tearing up San Jose, hitting .302/.338/.533 with 11 homers in 228 plate appearances. Very encouraging. Even though he had just 11 walks to go along with his homers, he was emerging as a prospect, breaking free of the sleeper-prospect label.

That season, he was moved all the way to Triple-A, where he had a rough 46 games. Then he was moved to the majors for good, where he would start once a week, with some pinch-hitting gigs on the side. This would go on for five years.

It's clearly okay to appeal to authority a lot with the Giants. They have mysterious ways, and they've proven that they know how to take unpolished minor league free agent ore and turn it into gemstones. They were right about Huff, they were right about Vogelsong, they were right about Blanco, and they're just so right about everything so often.

That written, I'm desperate -- desperate -- to know why the Giants did what they did with Sanchez. Why they made him a backup when he was 22 and raw, why they yanked him from the progression of a typical minor leaguer to learn by osmosis instead of repetition.

There might have been good reasons. Their best scout-type person might have believed that Sanchez's ceiling was no better than as a switch-hitting #2, the guy behind the guy, so he might as well learn in the majors. That's fair. A little cynical, but fair. And that first season wasn't a total disaster. Sanchez struck out 52 times and walked just five times in 227 plate appearances, but he hit .280/.295/.390 with a 94 OPS+, and he was still just 22. He was worth a cool win as a backup, with his whole career ahead of him.

It's just odd that the experiment didn't at least take a break when Sanchez struggled offensively and defensively. He got worse and worse in each subsequent seasons, at least offensively, and it's not like he improved substantially defensively. He eventually missed substantial amounts of time with concussions after an unbelievably unlucky string of foul tips to the face, and Andrew Susac became the new caddy for Buster Posey.

Sanchez deserved better. He probably deserved a normal career arc. As is, though, I'm sure he can't complain. He caught a no-hitter. He has two World Series rings. He has his moments in Giants lore

It was just the strangest Giants career I've ever seen. Why was he up so young? Why did he stay up? What were the benefits to keeping him as the primary backup, and why did they supercede the benefits to letting him develop in the minors like every other catcher before him?

I want a peek at the alternate timeline, while acknowledging that this timeline worked out pretty, pretty well. Here's hoping Sanchez hits 25 homers in a magical U.S. Cellular season. If not that, here's hoping he gets regular at-bats somewhere. He's been looking for them for about five years now.