Getty Images

New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez is coming off a brutal season. Though he stayed healthy enough to appear in 49 of the Yankees' 60 games, he hit just .147/.253/.365 with 10 home runs. Sanchez even found himself on the bench during the postseason, albeit partially out of deference to ace Gerrit Cole's relationship with backup Kyle Higashioka.

Despite all the above, it appears that Sanchez has retained one important backer -- at least publicly. Yankees manager Aaron Boone defended his backstop this week.

"I think he's been unfairly criticized a lot," Boone told YES Network, per the New York Post. "I think at times it's over the top and people are blinded by some of the things that he's done really well."

Boone's defense comes at an interesting time. The Yankees have already been linked to some of the top free-agent catchers available, including J.T. Realmuto and Yadier Molina. At minimum, the Yankees seem willing to investigate the possibility of upgrading over Sanchez, or of supplementing him with a more talented backup.

The Yankees have conceded as much publicly. Back in October, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that it was "certainly a fair question" as to whether Sanchez would be the starting backstop heading into 2021. 

Boone's defense, then, could be part of an effort to maintain Sanchez's trade value, or it could be an attempt to keep Sanchez's spirits up as he enters a pivotal year. Of course, the most likely answer is that Boone is the kind of manager who will always stick up for his players, no matter their performance on the field or the ruminations happening behind closed doors.

Sanchez, 28 come early December, has two more seasons of team control remaining. His track record of being an above-average hitter (116 career OPS+) would likely make him an appealing target for teams without the financial means to chase Realmuto.