DETROIT — Anibal Sanchez’s agent, Gene Mato, said his client “left money on the table” during the winter meetings from a club he wouldn’t specify — he only said it wasn’t the Chicago Cubs — because Sanchez “wasn’t comfortable with that team.”
Mato claims Sanchez could have made more than he ended up getting from the Tigers, who announced an $80 million, five-year contract with a club option for a sixth year Monday afternoon at Comerica Park.
When negotiations with the Cubs — who were offering $77.5 million over five years — got down to the nitty-gritty, Mato said his client took “a night to sleep on it” and told Mato, “Listen, I want to be a Tiger. Call them to make a deal.”
Mato, acknowledging that getting the most for a player — in both dollars and personal preferences — “is a difficult process,” made it happen.
Sanchez and his wife, Ana, found it difficult to stop smiling during Monday’s press conference at Comerica Park. They often made eye contact during the question-and-answer session and had a Christmas-morning look in their eyes.
Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski presented Ana a bouquet that included white roses and flowers “in the Tigers colors of orange and blue,” Ana noted. Club owner Mike Ilitch authorized going higher and longer on the salary than anyone anticipated.
When asked if he thought Detroit would sign Sanchez, Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones grinned and said, “I didn’t think so, no.”
Consider that C.J. Wilson, a much more high-profile pitcher than Sanchez, signed for five years and $77.5 million last winter with the Angels and you get the picture.
Market value for Sanchez went through the roof because of supply and demand in a weak free agent pitcher class.
“It’s a risk,” Dombrowski said. “Pitchers are a risky business. The market was five years … but you take risks that you think are good.”
Sanchez, 28, has reached 195 innings in three consecutive seasons and shown durability. He also threw a no-hitter as a rookie in 2006.
But he has a career record of 48-51 and a 3.75 ERA, making him seem unworthy of such a hefty pay day — although Mato pointed out that Sanchez received the lowest run production of any starter in the majors over the last three seasons.
Most important for the Tigers, though, is that he recovered from a shaky start in Detroit to post a 2.21 ERA in his last eight regular-season starts before recording a 1.77 ERA with an excellent 0.98 WHIP in three postseason starts. In one start each against the A’s, Yankees and Giants, Sanchez threw 20 1/3 innings with 18 strikeouts and six walks.
“The difference was his ability to throw any pitch at any time in the strike zone,” Jones said. “When he got here, he and I looked at a lot of things. He was turning (his body) a little bit too much in his delivery and we worked on that.
“He threw a lot more curveballs when he was (with the Tigers) … and a lot more with two strikes,” Dombrowski added.
Sanchez will stay in the Tigers’ starting rotation behind Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister.
Right-handed Rick Porcello and lefty Drew Smyly, both 23, will battle for the fifth spot. That is unless the Tigers deal Porcello, who Dombrowski claims is coveted by “numerous” teams.
“We’ll just see what happens,” Dombrowski said. “We’re not going to do something just to do something.”
A wealth of pitching has him sitting pretty.
“When you talk of throwing the Big Four at people, that’s impressive no matter who No. 5 is,” Dombrowski said. “(Sanchez) pitched extremely well for us. He was one of the best pitchers in the league. He pitched in some of the biggest games for us down the stretch.”
Sanchez fell in love with the Tigers once they acquired him and second baseman Omar Infante from the Marlins in July. Sanchez credited Jones and Tigers manager Jim Leyland for helping him and said “everyone made me feel comfortable here.”
Sanchez found a home, and he didn’t want to leave it.
“Thank you Mr. Ilitch … to let it happen,” Sanchez said. “To be part of the Tigers for the rest … well, six years.”
He wanted to say “for the rest of my career,” but will be just 33 years old when the Tigers are faced with picking up his option year.
What made him want to commit to the Tigers?
“It was everybody,” said Sanchez. “I trust everybody. I feel great when I see that type of lineup when I am pitching.”
Photographers asked Anibal and Ana to pose for photos, and they hugged and kissed after doing so. Their daughter, Anabella, was born near their home in Miami in early October, and now they have a home team they love.
Ana took the Tigers jersey off her husband’s back after the press conference and cradled it on her left arm for a minute before donning it herself.
“We are very blessed,” Ana said. “Now with our child and everything that has happened to us. We are so happy to come to Detroit and now stay here.”