Blue Jays 2018: Are Two Sanchez’s Better Than One?

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 20: Anibal Sanchez
DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 20: Anibal Sanchez /

The Jays are rumored to be looking to the free agent market for a 5th starter for 2018.  Could Anibal Sanchez be the answer?

The 2018 Jays could have a strong starting four in Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ.  But the fifth starter remains an open question.  Can Joe Biagini fill that role for a full season?  Will the Jays re-sign Brett Anderson?  Is Ryan Borucki (or Chris Rowley, or T.J. House) ready?

Many writers (myself included) believe that it would be prudent for the Jays to sign another proven major league pitcher to fill the #5 role, leaving the Biagini’s and Borucki’s in the 6th-8th starter slots.  Many names have been discussed as possible fits – Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, and Tyler Chatwood, to name a few.  But the Tigers’ recent decision to not pick up a team option puts another name into the mix.

Lets talk about Anibal Sanchez.

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In 2013, Sanchez’s 2.57 ERA led all AL starters.  His 2014 was also strong, but from 2015-17 (the last three years of his contract with Detroit) his performance declined dramatically, with a combined 5.67 ERA.  2017 was particularly disappoiinting, with a 6.41 ERA and only 105 innings pitched.  To no one’s surprise, the Tigers elected to not pick up his 2018 option (at $16 million).

So why would the Jays even consider him?

In that disappointing 2015-17, Anibal’s advanced stats were far more kind.  He had a 4.34 xFIP – a strong 4th starter level.  And there were also positive signs in 2017:  a 4.16 SIERA and 4.40 xFIP both suggested that optimism was warranted (as did his .354 BABIP).  And he did not get much help – the Tigers’ team DRS of -62 was the second worst in baseball (-73 by the Mets, in case you were wondering).  And (insert cherry-picking caveat here) he finished the season strong, with a 2.74 ERA and 12.13 K/9 over his last four starts.

Sanchez will be 34 at the start of the 2018 season.  It is unlikely that he will be offered the multi-year contract that he would likely be looking for, so he might be forced to accept a one-year pillow contract to re-establish his value.  It follows that the team who signs him might get a financial bargain.

So what would Sanchez be looking for?  First and foremost, he would want a spot in a major league rotation.  It does him no good to be lights-out in AAA, waiting for an injury.  With the Jays, he would be the overwhelming favourite for the 5th starter gig.  Second, he would want to be pitching to a catcher who is an exceptional pitch-caller and framer, to make him look as good as possible.  Ideally, one with a history of helping struggling pitchers to recover their mojo.  Like Russell Martin did with Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett.  And finally, he would want a strong bullpen behind him to protect his wins and ERA – a bullpen like the Jays’, whose 3.67 SIERA was 7th best in baseball in 2017.

Next: Can Russell Martin rebound in 2018?

The bottom line

Sanchez would come with a lot of question marks.  It is possible that his career-worst 2.22 HR/9 is not an aberration, but an indication of declining ability.  But he is a veteran mlb starter, with experience in the AL, and the bar for a 5th starter is not that high.  He might well be worth the gamble.