Is Sanchez better as trade bait or future piece?


Yesterday Dave Cameron of FanGraphs published a thought-provoking piece that discusses Anibal Sanchez‘s future with the Florida Marlins. With Sanchez having such a dominating season but under only one more year of team control, it is a possibility that the Marlins could swing a significant trade involving the young starter, and that such a deal could net a very hefty return for the team.

"The Reds could turn their focus to Sanchez and put together a strong offer without having to take on an encumbering salary that might bust their budget. The Indians could try to keep their surprising run going and bolster their 2012 rotation at the same time. The Rockies are on the hunt for a starting pitcher and Sanchez’s stuff would play well at altitude. The Rangers could bolster their rotation for the second consecutive summer, only this time by acquiring a guy who wouldn’t be leaving several months later.Sanchez would be in strong demand and instantly become the jewel of the trade market (assuming the Mets decide to keep Jose Reyes), and, in most cases, the best guy on the market every summer commands a strong premium. The drop-off from Sanchez to the next best pitcher that a team could acquire is pretty staggering, and the Marlins could legitimately make the case that they were the holders of the only front-line starter on the market, and that they didn’t have to trade him since they had him under team control for next year as well."

The point Dave makes there is very intriguing. Because Sanchez is under team control for one more season and would only cost a potential buying club $2M for the rest of 2011, he would be an enticing player to go after in what might otherwise be a barren trade market should the New York Mets decide against shopping Jose Reyes. The Marlins could be looking at a nice haul, but the team also has another dilemma that Dave just briefly touches upon: how close are the Marlins to contention, and can they be able to re-sign Sanchez to the sort of deal they got for Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco?

Trade Value

This season, Sanchez has been absolutely stellar, putting up a 2.82 ERA to go along with a 2.84 FIP and 2.94 xFIP. He is striking out a career high 25.1 percent of batters faced so far this season, and he has walked a career low 6.7 percent of batters faced as well. Everything has been going right for him, and his future projections seem to point that out as well. A 3.19 FIP using the FanGraphs method of calculating Wins Above Replacement would yield 2.5 WAR remaining for the rest of the season. If he continues that sort of performance for another 200 innings in 2012, we would expect Anibal Sanchez to provide value equal to 7.7 WAR over the next season and a half. The remaining wins likely would be worth $32M in the free agent market over the next season and a half, assuming a $4M per WAR cost this year and a $4.4M cost next season.

That would be an excellent performance, but how much is that going to cost the teams that are potentially interested? Sanchez is currently on a one-year deal worth $3.7M, meaning teams would have to pony up something like $2M for the rest of the year. Next season, the Marlins or another team would likely have to pay Sanchez about $8M in arbitration, more than double his salary from this season. That gives them $10M worth of salary to be paid in order to gain perhaps $32M in terms of wins, a surplus value of $22M.

What kind of package could the Marlins expect for $22M in surplus value. The scale set by Victor Wang a few years ago has $22M being worth one of the top 11-25 hitting prospects in baseball, on the order of a player like Dustin Ackley or a Manny Machado. Of course, no team is likely to do a one-for-one trade of that nature, but a package of prospects and young team-controlled players would once again be in the mix. Cameron mentioned that the Cincinnati Reds had a lot of tools available to offer, including players like prospects Yonder Alonso, Todd Frazier, and Zack Cozart and major leaguers like Ryan Hanigan, Mike Leake, and Travis Wood. A package of three of those players would almost certainly be enough to fill holes on the Marlins’ side of the table and do so with minimal economic commitment.

Contention and holes to fill

The question is how many holes do the Marlins really have to fill? Coming into the season, the Marlins were actually projected to be fringe contenders, and fringe contenders do not often trade away their best assets. The team also had a few defined holes going into the year, and very few of them might be solved in the short- or long-term with a trade of Sanchez. The Marlins were primarily weak at center field and third base going into the season and at second base when considering the near future. Would a trade of Sanchez be able to solve those problems? Perhaps, but it might also weaken the pitching staff that has been one of the few bright spots of the team.

The Marlins are not necessarily looking into the far future right now. Ramirez, Johnson, and Nolasco are around for another two to three seasons, and given the occurrences of this year with Ramirez and Johnson, they might not necessarily be all there during that time span. The trio of young position players that are carrying the offense at the moment are under team control for another four years after this, but the Marlins might have to consider dealing Gaby Sanchez. The last few seasons the team has been on the cusp of contention and should not be giving up sure assets such as Sanchez for future parts. The team should be looking to win and make playoff berths within a few years with their current core.

The money, as always

Of course, Dave is right in mentioning one thing: if the Marlins are not planning on signing Sanchez long-term, a trade would be most beneficial. Before the season, it seemed reasonable that the Marlins had a shot at signing Sanchez to a Nolasco-style three-year extension at the end of this season, but if 2011 ends in stellar fashion for Sanchez, then it will be much more difficult to keep him around for $29M. Given the assumption of at least $8M next season in arbitration, here is what a possible acceptable extension could look like.

2012: $8M
2013: $13M
2014: $13M

That total would look like a three-year deal worth $34M, which gives him $13M for his first two free agent seasons. In comparison, Johnson received $13.75M for each of his two free agent seasons that were bought out by his four-year, $39M extension. How comparable were the two players going into their potential extension years?

Johnson481 1/321.
Sanchez582 1/318.

The two are somewhat comparable in terms of their run allowance, but Johnson’s peripherals were significantly better. The only major difference on the side of Sanchez is the fact that, by the time he finishes this season, he would have gathered two good seasons in a row, while Johnson signed with only one All-Star season under his belt (not counting either of their strong rookie years). Sanchez getting two seasons of that kind in his repertoire improves his value as his more recent performance certainly weighs more heavily. One would have to figure that a three- or four-year extension would have to at least be comparable, if not a bit heftier than what Johnson received because of this.

Can the Marlins afford such a commitment? They have already doled out two pitchers contracts of three or more seasons, and the team may be hesitant to go after a third starter in that fashion. At the same time, no one the Marlins could acquire in return could individually match up to Sanchez’s production, and if the team were serious about contending and extending payroll heading into a new stadium, Sanchez may be the player to go for. The only other option is to simply play out this final upcoming season of team control with Sanchez on the mound and wait and see what happens. The team has done this before with both Carl Pavano and A.J. Burnett, both times acquiring draft pick compensation rather than attempting a trade. Ultimately the decision to trade and hold onto Sanchez will depend on a possible extension. There has been no word on such a thing, so it is likely that the Fish will wait until the offseason to cash in their big trade chip, if at all.