Pitchers Break, But You Still Need Them: Anibal Sanchez

As we continue looking at the available pitchers this offseason, we move on to Anibal Sanchez, who split 2012 between Miami & Detroit. Sanchez has become a popular topic among Dodger fans in the last 24 hours due to this tweet from ESPN’s Jayson Stark, who says that the Dodgers are interested in him as well as Zack Greinke & Hiroki Kuroda, all of which jives with what I’ve heard through the grapevine.

It’s not like it takes a direct line into the general manager’s office to think that the Dodgers would be sniffing around Sanchez, of course, because he’s a very good pitcher who raised his public profile with a solid postseason as the Tigers advanced to the World Series. Before joining the Tigers in July, Sanchez spent most of seven years with the Marlins, though it’s interesting to remember how he got there; in November of 2005, he was traded from Boston along with current Dodger Hanley Ramirez to Florida for current Dodger Josh Beckett. (Actually, two other parts of that trade – Harvey Garcia & Guillermo Mota – were in the Dodger organization at various points, so we’ll just need to dig up Jesus Delgado & Mike Lowell for the entire set.)

While with the Marlins, Sanchez gained a reputation for being a very talented pitcher – he threw a no-hitter as a rookie in 2006 – but also one who could rarely stay healthy enough to show it. Over four years between 2006-09, he threw only 282 innings due to a variety of right shoulder injuries, including labrum surgery which cost him most of 2007 & 2008. Yet over the last three seasons, Sanchez has quietly turned into one of the more durable pitchers in the game, pitching at least 195 innings each season and not once landing on the disabled list.

As Sanchez regained his health, he unsurprisingly found some lost velocity and added productivity. During his injured years, his fastball topped out around 90 MPH; over the last few years it’s been nearly 92. Between 2006-09, his important peripherals were 6.6 K/9 & 4.4 BB/9; since, that’s improved to 8.1 & 2.8, which is outstanding. Over the last three years, his 3.40 FIP is exactly the same of Chris Carpenter and just slightly behind Cole Hamels & Mat Latos.

All that being said, you could argue that Sanchez has been pretty underrated, considering that he’s rarely thought of in that class. It’s not hard to see why, since he’s played on some pretty terrible Marlins teams and carries a career 48-51 record into the winter. But that perception may have changed this season, because not only did he prove he could handle pitching in the American League, he allowed just four runs in 20.1 postseason innings, getting one start in each Detroit playoff round. With Sanchez not even turning 29 until February, he’s primed to make a splash in free agency. (And because he was traded, he will not even cost a draft pick.)

So what might he get? By this point, all the major writers have made their predictions:

ESPN’s Jim Bowden, who has been oddly prescient in predicting the free agent market:

4/$56m His value grew significantly in August and September, then skyrocketed in the postseason when he demonstrated that he could get it done on the biggest stage. I’m estimating that he will fall short of C.J. Wilson‘s AAV of $15.5 million last winter but should be able to come close to Mark Buehrle‘s deal with the Marlins.

CBS’ Jon Heyman:

6. Anibal Sanchez, SP. Very good postseason should help. Incumbent Tigers have said they be will be in mix. Expert: $65 million, 5 years. Me: $70 million, 5 years.

FanGraphsDave Cameron:

3. Anibal Sanchez, SP: 4 years, $52 million

Sanchez has flown under the radar to some extent, overshadowed by Josh Johnson in Miami and Justin Verlander in Detroit, but he’s a legitimately good starter who has seemingly put his health problems behind him, throwing nearly 600 innings over the last three years. His stuff is good, his results are good, and his durability problems are probably overstated at this point. For essentially the same deal that Mark Buehrle got last winter, this would be a nice addition for any team looking to bolster their rotation.

MLBTradeRumors‘ Tim Dierkes:

4.  Anibal Sanchez – Tigers.  Sanchez, 29 in February, has been a dependable number two or three starter over the past three years.  He capped off his 2012 resume with a successful American League stint and 20 strong playoff innings.  A C.J. Wilson-type contract seems fair.  The Tigers have interest in bringing Sanchez back, though the Blue Jays, Yankees, Twins, Angels, Rangers, Dodgers, and Padres are among the teams that may make bids if he hits the open market.  Unlike Kyle Lohse, Sanchez will not cost a draft pick to sign.

New York Posts  Ken Davidoff:

Proved in Detroit he can handle the AL just fine. He turns 29 in February and has pitched between 195 and 196 1/3 innings the last three seasons. Prediction: Detroit, five years, $80 million.

As you can see, it’s a bit all over the place, but the general consensus is that he’s getting four or five years for between $13-$16m per year, which sounds fair to me. Sanchez is young, he’s durable, he’s effective, and he won’t cost you a draft pick. He’s not an ace, but then again that’s the difference between giving him $50-$70m and giving Greinke well over $100m. Let’s put it this way: would you rather give that contract to Sanchez or Lohse? As far as I’m concerned, it’s not even close.

We know the Dodgers have interest, and Sanchez represents a clear upgrade over the Chris Capuano / Aaron Harang / Ted Lilly / Beckett crew. But it’s very difficult to see them coming away with Sanchez and Greinke, and as the clear-cut “best pitcher available”, Greinke’s likely to wait out the market. Will the Dodgers make a move on Sanchez quickly, potentially taking them out of the Greinke market, or is it wiser to wait on Grienke knowing that it might cost them the chance to get Sanchez as a backup if he signs elsewhere?