On Anibal Sanchez and the future of the Tigers rotation
When the Tigers acquired Anibal Sanchez last July, every indication — including the opinion of at least one Tigers official — was that it was a two-month rental for Detroit to bolster its rotation for the playoff race and the postseason to follow. If anybody in the trade had a longer-term fit, it was Omar Infante, under contract through next season to fill the black hole at second base.
Somewhere along the line, the thinking appears to have changed.
“Yeah, he’s a player we’d like to keep,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski told the Detroit News on Monday.
If they do, it’s going to be a pretty dramatic shift in a Tigers rotation built on a combination of homegrown talent (Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly) and trades for young pitchers still growing (Max Scherzer, Doug Fister).
Sanchez will not be cheap. While his last month of pitching has made him an appealing arm for the Tigers to keep, it has also made a serious boost for his market in free agency, proving he can be effective in both leagues. He has the chance to be the most valuable starter on the market other than Zack Greinke, and he could prove more appealing than Greinke for some teams.
The Tigers have NEVER made a major push for a top free-agent starter on the market since Dombrowski took over a decade ago. When everyone pegged them for Jarrod Washburn after the 2005 season, they aimed for Kenny Rogers on a much more palatable deal and hit the jackpot. Even on the trade market, Sanchez is just about the biggest name they’ve landed, bigger in my opinion than Jarrod Washburn a few years ago.
The thought process has always been that the market for starting pitchers gets inflated by supply (too many teams need starters) and demand (never enough good arms out there for every needy team to sign).
Why change now? Sure, Sanchez is young, set to turn 29 during Spring Training next year. But if a rental player becomes enamored with the renting team, there may be hope to get a reasonable deal done (at least by market standards). Every indication so far has been that the Tigers and Detroit have made an impression on Sanchez.
The other factor is the owner. In a market where even the Yankees are talking about cutting payroll, Detroit and Mike Ilitch make as much sense as any for a team to drive up a player’s market.
If the Tigers are serious about signing Sanchez, however, somebody has to go. It’s not just a numbers problem, but a payroll problem.
Verlander has two years left on his contract (usually the time for teams to talk contract with starters) and is in position to ask for a game-changing contract extension. Even if he doesn’t, he’s set to make $20 million next year Scherzer and Porcello are both second-year arbitration eligibles, and Fister becomes eligible for the first time this winter.
Add it up, and those four core starters have the potential to make well over $30 million. A Sanchez extension could push the five-man rotation payroll up towards $50 million. With Drew Smyly having shown he can start and grow in the big leagues, it makes no sense.
The assumption has always been that Smyly would fill the Sanchez opening next year. If Sanchez stays, it’s hard not to see Smyly filling someone else’s shoes. Maybe it’s Porcello, who lowered his ERA and raised his strikeout rate from last year but paid mightily for ground-ball hits and unearned runs and might be a better fit with another defense. Maybe it’s Scherer, whose value might never be higher (even with the shoulder issue) if the Tigers determine they have no chance of re-signing him in two years.
Those are all offseason questions, and both Dombrowski and Sanchez made it clear they’re keeping it on the back burner until the postseason ends. But it’s an interesting thought that could change the Tigers offseason.