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Free Agent Fit: Anibal Sanchez, the Greinke Alternative

November 7th, 2012

Anibal Sanchez, after recording a key strikeout in Game 2 of the ALCS.

Depending on who you ask — like, say, the MLBTradeRumors Top 50 Free Agents — Detroit Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez is the second best starting pitcher on the market,* behind only Zack Greinke. Not coincidentally, Sanchez and his agent will probably bide their time before signing somewhere (unless he’s blown away by an offer), letting Greinke set the market and create a bidding war for his services between desperate teams previously vying for Greinke. Several articles I read suggested that Sanchez would receive a deal in the $85M range; considering recent trends for mid-rotation starting pitchers, this seems like a reasonable guess.

* Cole Hamels, Jered Weaver, and Matt Cain all could have been free agents this winter. They should receive a cut of whatever Sanchez signs for.

One of those teams that could pursue Sanchez could very well be the Angels, as Greinke is rightfully their top priority this winter. With Ervin Santana and likely Dan Haren gone and without any real replacements to speak of, bringing back Greinke could be the difference between contending in the AL West or resigning to another third place finish, wasting another of Albert Pujols’ still productive years. If the Angels fail to meet Greinke’s asking price, is Sanchez a worthy investment as a contingency plan?


Sanchez will turn 29 in February, an asset in and of itself given that he is really the only top starting pitcher on the market that is under 30 (excluding Greinke and Edwin Jackson, who is also 29 but just feels like he’s been around forever). If you’re debating who to reward a long-term deal to between Sanchez and, say, 34-year-old Kyle Lohse — who some suspect may try to sign for a CJ Wilson type deal — siding with Sanchez for age-related reasons is a logical decision.

Much like Greinke, Sanchez initially struggled upon moving from the cozy confines of the NL to the AL at the trade deadline. In three of his first four starts, he allowed at least 5 runs; but in seven of his last eight starts, he allowed 3 runs or less, highlighted by a complete game shutout on September 25 when he struck out 10 Royals. His late season surge carried over into October, where in three playoff starts he pitched a combined 20.1 innings, allowed only 4 runs, and struck out 18 batters against 6 walks. His ALCS Game 2 performance at Yankee Stadium, where he threw 7 scoreless and struck out 7 Yankees**, undoubtedly eased the minds of front offices that were considering throwing a large contract at Sanchez.

** I’m told not all seven strikeouts were against A-Rod, contrary to popular belief.

You’re not getting anything spectacular with Sanchez, but then again the Angels don’t need him to be spectacular; they already have Weaver and assuming Wilson can rebound from his injury and pitch at pre-All Star Break levels, Sanchez would slot in as a very nice complimentary rotation piece.

After battling injuries and ineffectiveness early in his Marlins tenure, Sanchez was a model of consistency during the last three seasons. In fact, here’s his innings pitched the last three seasons: 195, 196.1, 195.2. That checks out at just about 6.1 innings every start. Sure, he’s not a workhorse in the Justin Verlander mold, but considering the average Angels start in 2012 lasted just a shade over 6 innings, it still constitutes an upgrade. The fewer outs the bullpen has to record, the better. And unlike Santana, who at a moment’s notice could implode and turn in one those 1.2 innings starts, those will be fewer and further between for Sanchez. In 2012 Sanchez only had two starts where he didn’t last at least 5 innings; Santana and Haren each had four.

While his performance in Detroit is a woefully small sample size, it is encouraging that those 12 starts did more or less line up to Sanchez’ career marks. Sanchez will never be the ace the Marlins hoped he would one day become, but he is a very reliable #2 or high-end #3 starter. What you’re getting in Sanchez is about a 4-win pitcher that will strike out a respectable 7.5 batters per 9 innings, record groundouts at a league average pace, and eat innings. It’s not sexy but that’s ok because he’s just a Plan B. He’s not supposed to be sexy.

Sanchez wouldn’t be a difference maker for the Angels in the way that the Yankees signing CC Sabathia before 2009 propelled them to a World Series title. Very few players are capable of that, especially ones on the free agent market after they have usually passed their peak. And yeah $80-90M does sound steep for someone as boring as Anibal Sanchez. But Arte Moreno and Jerry Dipoto made their bed in Winter 2011. Rebuilding isn’t an option with so much invested. Plus, this team isn’t as far away from contending as some may be led to believe. A full season of Trout along with some better bullpen luck and this team could have easily won the AL West this past season.

Dan Haren and Ervin Santana were huge disappointments for the Angels last season. It’s not unreasonable to assume that Sanchez would be an upgrade over both of them. While he won’t be able to live up to Greinke’s performance, the Angels would have never acquired Greinke in the first place had the back of their rotation not been so dismal. Plug him into the #3 hole, find a couple solid innings-eaters to round out the back of the rotation, and that’s a serviceable big league staff. No it’s not as splashy as 2012′s rotation, but we all saw how far that got the Angels.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewkarcher

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