Well, that was a strange turn of events. After reports yesterday that the Cubs had agreed to terms with Anibal Sanchez, we are now hearing that the Cubs are out, and that the Tigers have agreed to a deal with Sanchez for 5 years, $80 million.
I've heard differing opinions on Sanchez across the baseball community - Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs recently suggested Sanchez as a cheaper alternative to Zack Greinke for similar value. On the other hand, Sanchez has had shoulder issues in the past, and some worry that a long-term deal is too risky. I'm sympathetic with the latter train of thought, as all pitchers are risky to sign to long-term deals; add in the history of shoulder problems, and a five year contract begins to look foolish.
Yet despite the shoulder problems, Sanchez has been one of the more consistent pitchers over the last few years. Consider his performance since 2010:
For a guy with injury concerns, that's a remarkably consistent performance. Sanchez has never been lights-out, but over the past three years he's been a very solid pitcher. You will also notice the dollar amounts on the right side of that table, which indicate that Sanchez has been worth about $17 million a year. This is very close to the average annual value of his deal with the Tigers, in which he is receiving $16 million a year. Based on that alone, and the fact that Sanchez is only 28 years old, this deal seems basically fair.
Of course, there are a couple of caveats to this evaluation. First of all, the above dollar values come from Sanchez's FIP, which has been consistently lower than his ERA every year. If we go by Sanchez's RA9-Wins courtesy of Fangraphs, which includes balls in play and timing, Sanchez's worth drops to the $12-$14 million range. By this account, the Tigers may have overpaid for Sanchez.
But there's a reason that Fangraphs uses FIP instead of RA9-Wins to calculate WAR. FIP removes the defense factor from the equation, a factor that has likely hurt Sanchez over the years. By UZR, the Marlins had a below-average defense from 2010-2012, and we all know that the Tigers didn't help Sanchez in that regard either. So although Sanchez's ERA has always been above his FIP, we may be better off assuming his true talent is closer to the latter than the former.
There's one more caveat to this analysis: the free agent market has been absurd this offseason. Zack Greinke just signed a 6-year, $147 million contract, good for $24.5 million per year. Read that again. TWENTY FOUR POINT FIVE MILLION. For six years. In comparison, Sanchez's $16 million per year, for one less year, looks like a steal. Yes, Greinke is the superior pitcher, but is he so much better that he deserves 67 million dollars more? I don't think so.
I'm not saying that this deal is a steal for the Tigers, by any means. But given the current market, and Sanchez's consistent solid performance since 2010, this isn't an overpay for the Tigers. Sure, Sanchez might get injured and the Tigers might end up regretting this contract. But this is a risk that teams take when they sign any pitcher. The Tigers paid for consistency from Sanchez, and based on his recent performance, there is every reason to think that he will provide it.