DETROIT — The going rate for starting pitchers is becoming movie-star money.
That trend is almost certain to see the Tigers and free-agent pitcher Anibal Sanchez part ways. Sanchez appears to be seeking something in the neighborhood of $90 million over five years. If he can command anything near that, the Tigers will wave goodbye.
Justin Verlander has two years remaining on a five-year deal worth $80 million. Do you think the Tigers are going to pay their No. 4 starter as much or more than Verlander gets?
“I’d love to have Anibal Sanchez back if we could,” Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said. “I know it’s not going to be an easy pursuit by any means.”
Zack Greinke, the top pitcher in this free-agent class, is looking for six years at $150 million. And the 2009 Cy Young Award winner probably will get or come close to that $25 million average salary, which would surpass CC Sabathia’s current $24.4 million contract average. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are right behind that with $22.9 million averages.
Brad Pitt makes about $25 million per movie, and now that’s about what Greinke will get per season.
What Sanchez gets could be much more than he’s worth. The vast majority of general managers polled by ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick had him the No. 2 starter option behind Greinke in a weak free-agent field.
Sanchez was the choice of 14 general managers, while ex-Tiger Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren were tied for the third spot with three votes apiece. Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com wrote that for Sanchez “a C.J. Wilson-type contract seems fair.”
Last year, Wilson got $77.5 million over five years ($13.5 million average) from the Angels. He went 13-10 with a 3.83 and was grossly overpaid.
Hiroki Kuroda, an aging pitcher rated the No. 5 free-agent starter by Dierkes, got $15 million for 2013 from the Yankees.
So it looks like Sanchez will get that kind of money and will probably end up being somebody’s payroll headache, unless he can equalize what he did for the Tigers in September and the postseason.
His career numbers suggest that his performance, though clutch, might very well have been an aberration. Sanchez was 9-13 with a 3.86 ERA overall for the Marlins and Tigers last season.
He was 10-3 with a 2.83 ERA and a no-hitter as a Marlins rookie in 2006, but missed most of the next three seasons with broken fingers and a broken hand.
Sanchez, only 28, has proven durable since then. He’s reached 195 innings pitched in three consecutive seasons. But he hasn’t put up knock-out numbers, going 13-12 with a 3.55 ERA in 2010 and 8-9 with a 3.67 ERA in 2011.
However, what he did in September (2.43 ERA, 37 strikeouts, five walks in 40 2/3 innings) and the playoffs (1.77 ERA, 18 strikeouts, five walks in 20 1/3 innings) turned heads. His walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP) was 0.98 in the postseason and 0.96 in September. Those are Cy Young Award-winning numbers if done over six months.
Maybe it was working with Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones or simply getting away from the stench in Miami with the Marlins. But there’s no doubt Sanchez kicked it into high gear down the stretch.
Can he keep it up? Or will he go back to being a dependable middle-of-the-rotation starter and nothing more?
Those are the questions teams must answer before bidding high on Sanchez.
The Red Sox and Dodgers are interested in Sanchez, and both have money to spend. Also look for the Angels to enter the picture in a big way if they lose Greinke to the Dodgers or Rangers.
Boston GM Ben Cherington oversaw the Red Sox’s international scouting when they signed Sanchez as a free agent out of Venezuela. Boston then traded Sanchez to the Marlins, but it would seem Cherington would have a connection with Sanchez.
One thing is certain: The Red Sox or some other team is going to pay Sanchez big money.
It won’t be the Tigers. They simply will not offer him anything near what Verlander, who will earn $20 million in each of the next two seasons, got over the length of his contract signed before the 2010 season.