Anibal Sanchez: The Race-Changer

A few weeks ago, we looked at a few of the arms who might be available for mid-season trades, and it wasn’t exactly a list of Cy Young candidates. Jason Marquis, Kevin Slowey, Jeremy Guthrie… useful pitchers all, but not exactly the kind of sexy addition that a team looking to make a big time push for the World Series is dreaming of. Looking around the league, there just didn’t seem to be any high quality arms with front-line starter upside who would be on the market this summer.

But then, June happened to the Marlins. After looking like a surprising contender in April and May, they’ve gone 3-22 in June, changed managers, and are now 14 1/2 games behind the first place Phillies. Even their Wild Card hopes seem long gone, as they stand 10 games back of the Braves and would have to leapfrog over 10 teams to claim the consolation playoff berth. The 2011 Marlins are going to be also-rans, and that puts a pitcher on the market who could change a lot of playoff races.

While Josh Johnson has garnered the headlines, his rotation mate Anibal Sanchez has quietly matured into a terrific pitcher in his own right. His career has been cut short by numerous injuries, but as we noted last August, Sanchez’s stuff really began to round back into form last summer. His velocity trended up all summer, and over the last 12 months, he’s settled in as a guy whose fastball averages close to 92 with a hard slider and a strong diving changeup.

The return of Sanchez’s premium stuff has been reflected in his performance as well. Over the last 365 days, Sanchez has been one of the best pitchers in the National League. Improved stuff and elite performance from a 27-year-old under team control for 2012? Now that’s the kind of player that a team would be willing to sell the farm for.

Sanchez is especially intriguing because any team acquiring him in the next month will be on the hook for only about $2 million in salary over the rest of the season, so the bidding could be opened up beyond the usual suspects. Yes, the Yankees would almost certainly make a strong bid, but the Marlins would be able to market Sanchez as a guy who could change nearly every pennant race in baseball.

The Reds could turn their focus to Sanchez and put together a strong offer without having to take on an encumbering salary that might bust their budget. The Indians could try to keep their surprising run going and bolster their 2012 rotation at the same time. The Rockies are on the hunt for a starting pitcher and Sanchez’s stuff would play well at altitude. The Rangers could bolster their rotation for the second consecutive summer, only this time by acquiring a guy who wouldn’t be leaving several months later.

Sanchez would be in strong demand and instantly become the jewel of the trade market (assuming the Mets decide to keep Jose Reyes), and, in most cases, the best guy on the market every summer commands a strong premium. The drop-off from Sanchez to the next best pitcher that a team could acquire is pretty staggering, and the Marlins could legitimately make the case that they were the holders of the only front-line starter on the market, and that they didn’t have to trade him since they had him under team control for next year as well.

But assuming that the Marlins won’t sign Sanchez long-term, they should trade him this summer. His strong season has lined up for a big paycheck in arbitration this winter, so any hope of getting him to sign a crazy below market deal like Johnson agreed to is out the window. If he hits free agency in 16 months, he’s going to get a deal that would make Jeffrey Loria cry (which is a thing we are in favor of, by the way). They missed their window to keep him in Miami long term, so now the question is when they should trade him, not if.

With no other good pitchers on the market and Sanchez’s salary making him an option for nearly every contender in baseball, they’ll never get more for him than they will now. Sanchez should command more than Cliff Lee did last summer thanks to the extra year of team control. The Marlins could land multiple top prospects and useful Major League players for him, as there are several teams who have the cache of prospects to make a really strong offer and the incentive to do so.

Larry Beinfest may just decide one of the playoff races this summer. He’s going to have his pick of places to send Sanchez to, and given his strong leverage, he’s in position to engineer a true blockbuster deal. The boring summer trade deadline may have just gotten interesting.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

24 Responses to “Anibal Sanchez: The Race-Changer”

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  1. danmerqury says:

    Just like Larry Bernandez!

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  2. Anthony says:

    Meh. I hope the Yanks don’t make a lopsided trade this summer. Not this summer, anyway. Sanchez is yours, [insert other teams here]

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  3. Kerry says:

    What kind of package do you think it would take to acquire Sanchez? Would the Reds have to send 3 or 4 top prospects?

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    • Sean O'Neill says:

      The Reds would probably have to include one of their two catchers (I’d imagine they’d offer Grandal, given Mesoraco figures to be the starter in 2012 with Hernandez moving on), as guys like Frazier and Alonso aren’t great fits for the Marlins (they have too many corner guys as it is). Grandal, Tekotte, Cozart, and Billy Hamilton perhaps? That’s a lot of up the middle talent, and could help the Marlins fill some gaping holes over the next few years.

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      • Kerry says:

        Thanks. That’s what I figured. I think I package of Grandal, Cozart, and Travis Wood (or Mike Leake) would likely be enough. Something the Reds should pursue.

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      • slamcactus says:

        Alonso might actually make some sense. Gaby Sanchez becomes arbitration-eligible next year, and should figure for a first-year award in the neighborhood of $3-4 million. Based on the Marlins’ typical schedule, they’ll likely be looking to move him around mid-season next year to avoid his eventual ~7 million pricetag.

        In the current plans Morrison probably moves back to 1B after Sanchez is gone, but if they can live with his glove in the OF Alonso might be a decent replacement for Gaby.

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  4. Kevin says:

    -insert Michael Jackson joke here-

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  5. Edward says:

    Really? The drop-off from Sanchez to Jeremy Guthrie is “staggering”? Sanchez has pitched better this season, yes, and of course he’s younger, but they’ve gotten similar results since 2007. And Guthrie did it without ever getting injured.

    Yes, if you use fWAR, Sanchez seems to be much more valuable, but Guthrie is the one pitcher fWAR underrates the most (Guthrie has a .271 BABIP for his career).

    Sanchez career ERA+ (582 IP): 117
    Guthrie career ERA+ (915 IP): 107

    I’ll agree that Sanchez is better by a bit, cheaper by a bit, and younger (though they’ll both be FAs in 2013), but Guthrie is more reliable, and to say that the difference is “staggering” seems like an exaggeration.

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    • Conrad says:

      Edward, I really enjoyed reading your comment as you realized how wrong you are, while still sticking adamantly to your point.

      So, to sum: by your own admission, Sanchez is younger, cheaper, and rates significantly better by fWAR and ERA+. If you want to argue that Dave should have used a slightly weaker word than “staggering,” well, OK, but that’s some pretty serious nitpicking. Sanches is clearly much better, and the one advantage Guthrie has—a better history of health—is pretty minor considering we’re talking about a mid-season trade, not a long free-agent contract.

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    • Garrett says:

      He is a Cy Young Candidate right now has 107 k’s in a little over 100 innings a miniscule era and whip and is 6 and 1, which should be better. and he may have the most 8+ k games in the league besides Verlander. Comparing him to Guthrie is ridiculuos! Guthries numbers cant ever come close to Anibals and at 27 and with the reemergence of his stuff, him being healthy, and being in shape, Anibal can be a 1 or 2 starter on any club for the next 5 to 6 years. Staggering I believe is the perfect word

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  6. Grover says:

    “Leapfrog” is one word you DOLT.

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    • And... says:

      Capitalization of complete words is general reserved for acronyms. When directly addressing someone, a comma is often used to separate the address from the remainder of the sentence, Grover.

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  7. Dan says:

    No, he will definitely not command more than Cliff Lee last summer. If you don’t believe me, see the 1st Cliff Lee deal to the Phillies (and to a lesser extent the one that sent him to the Mariners).

    Teams pay a premium for an “ace,” which Cliff Lee undoubtedly was when he was traded to the Rangers. At that point he was universally regarded as a durable, elite pitcher; thus, and ace. When Lee was traded to the Phillies, he had 1.5 seasons of elite performance under his belt, and had begun that season on the DL with some sort of abdominal injury (in addition to having prior injury issues). I hypothesize that at the time of that trade he was not yet viewed by GMs as an “ace” due to the short track record of elite performance, and the health concerns. As a result, the return was underwhelming.

    Every interested GM will point to the fact that Sanchez has only made 30 starts once in his career, which is coincidentally the only time he made more than 20 in a season.

    Sanchez, while very good, doesn’t have the track record of an ace quality health. He also has a short track record of elite performance. I agree that he will be the only front line pitcher available, but the Marlins won’t be able to extract a premium price for him. I say this because GMs seem to be extremely risk averse. If the average GM can’t sell this guy as an “ace” to the casual fan, then he won’t be willing to pay the price of an ace in prospects.

    I would be surprised if Sanchez commanded a package any better than what the Phillies (and subsequently, the Mariners) gave up to trade for Cliff Lee.

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    • Dan says:

      Come to think of it, there might be an inefficiency to be exploited here. If Sanchez can continue to perform at this level and stay healthy between now and next year’s deadline, it’s very likely that he will be significantly more valuable as a trade chip next year.

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  8. Telo says:

    Never noticed the calendar year split before… very cool

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  9. jim says:

    i saw the title and thought this was going to be another remington BS-fest.

    pleasantly surprised, dave, thank you.

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  10. phoenix2042 says:

    If the yankees want any chance of competing with the red sox, they need anibal. The biggest challenge will be not giving up the farm, because the marlins know they have the yanks by the balls if they come asking.

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    • Jason says:

      ….meanwhile the Yankees sit in first place in the AL East with the best record in the AL. They’ve done it by out-hitting and out-pitching the Redsox to date (despite their team being gutted with injuries). …yeah, it looks hopeless unless they get Anibal Sanchez….

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  11. marlinsfan24 says:

    Highly unlikely the Marlins trade Anibal IMO. He’s their second best pitcher and they’ll need him moving forward. I disagree with you that the Marlins have missed out on an opportunity to sign Sanchez longterm, Nolasco was in the same situation last season and Nolasco was able to stay healthy more so then Anibal. I expect a longterm deal between the Marlins and Sanchez to be completed this off-season.

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  12. Antonio Bananas says:

    The Marlins confuse me. Even though a new stadium doesn’t mean a higher payroll in the long run, I’m guessing attendance in the new stadium and probably even prices will be higher. If for nothing else, based on the whole “new stadium shine” think that happens where people show up. Maybe the Marlins won’t be selling as much as people think and will use that extra revenue to sign guys.

    I doubt it though, the new stadium is just a swindle for the owner to pocket more money just like in PIT. Personally I wouldn’t trade Anibal. Not with Johnson still there. Sign a quality vet next off season and they could have a very good rotation.

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  13. KRC says:

    The Marlins will not trade Sanchez due to the fact they have NO, read that again NO MLB ready rotation pitchers. They have a couple of guys that could do a spot start here and there, but they aren’t polished enough to become rotation starters yet.

    With the new stadium opening next year, and Ticket sales already well ahead of even the Marlins expectations, there will be a promised increase in payroll from our present $ 58 million to over $ 80 million. That could get us one, or maybe two starters and a 3rd baseman. Whoever said we have a plethora of corner guys is dead wrong. 3rd base has been a black hole for us this year, as the plan was for phenom Matt Dominguez to take it over but he bombed out in Spring Training, and then they had to go with Dobbs, Bonifacio & Wes Helms platoon. They all suck defensively, and Helms can even hit his age offensively.

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  14. T.O. Chris says:

    As a Yankee fan I wouldn’t even consider trading Montero, Banuelos, or Betances for Sanchez. If they wanted to make a deal around Romine and Nova I’d do it, but not for any of our top top prospects.

    Anibal’s strikeout rate won’t stay the same in the AL, let alone the AL East, and his walk rate would be sure to go up facing DH’s instead of pitchers. Add in the health question marks, and I don’t think you can make a reasonable case Anibal would be worth our best prospects. At best he would be our number 2 pitcher, but its reasonable to ask if he would even be that much of an upgrade over Burnett.

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