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Nevada Twins Fan

Would you have gone 5 years and $80M for Anibal Sanchez?

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This is a repeat of a forum post I made in December 2012. I'm blogging it now mostly for my own convenience; I took the time to look up several pitchers and I don't want to have to search again when I try to remember what I learned. The question was, if you were GM would you have matched the 5/$80M deal for Detroit's Anibal Sanchez? The context now is, when if ever would you sign a pitcher to a long term deal, given that there is room in the budget until the rookies start to earn big dough ...


My snap reaction was yes I would sign Sanchez. Then I tried to think about how Terry Ryan sees it, in terms of risk. Sign him to 5 years, then the last year of the contract you'll be paying him (say) $15M or $16M in 2017. This is right in the heart of the new window of competitiveness, right? Will that $16M be part of the winning formula? Or will it be a boat-anchor preventing you from making a deal to push this juggernaut team to a second straight title?

Well, roll the clock back 5 years to 2007. Not that all of these pitchers were available to sign at the time, but let's focus on who was completing his 28-year-old season, just as Sanchez is now. Limit it to guys who clearly were established starters. These 28-year-olds were:

Carlos Silva
Johan Santana
Gil Meche
John Lackey
Jeremy Guthrie
Mark Buehrle
Erik Bedard

Isn't this kind of a Murderer's Row of pitchers who teams actually *did* make an investment in? And with the exception of Buehrle, aren't they the ones that, 5 years later, fans of their current teams wail and gnash their teeth over?

Now put yourself in Ryan's shoes. Are you really going to pull the trigger on Sanchez for 5 years?

As I said above, I would. And this quick little bit of research reaffirms my reminder to myself, that when Terry Ryan and I disagree about something, take another good hard look.
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  1. old nurse's Avatar
    Since you would have to outbid Detroit the question should be do you sign Sanchez at 5 and 90.
  2. Willihammer's Avatar
    Take the poster child for "classic bad pitching contract," Barry Zito. 7 years, 126 million. He's in the final year of it now, and earning less in terms of AAV than Buehrle and Santana. But he was signed a year earlier, and got locked into 2006 salaries and projections instead of 2008 or 2012 salaries and projections. It should go without sayin but those things tend to go up pretty fast in baseball.

    Which is why I think this aversion to long-term contracts is overblown. Even if your guy turns into a Zito, a team can still be a consistent contender as the Giants have shown.

    I like the longitudinal approach here but I think you should compare how much the guys who have been piecemealed onto contracts over that span have earned and produced, as compared to the guys who were locked up to big deals early. Carlos Silva earned 45 million between 2 separate 2-year contracts after leaving the Twins while posting a 6.77 ERA in under 200 innings. Nowhere near as bad as Zito's in retrospect. Heck, even Meche managed to post two 200+ inning seasons of sub-4 ERA ball in his 5-year, 55 million/deal. A bad contract but hardly an albatross in 2012 money, the final year of his deal.

    *edited for clarity
    Updated 05-08-2013 at 12:28 PM by Willihammer
  3. ashburyjohn's Avatar
    Nurse is right that $80M wouldn't do it. But the angle I was taking was whether to go after him at all, once a 5-year contract at significant per-year price was established.

    As for WH's point about Zito, I was trying to take a less-anecdotal approach and consider an off-season five years earlier than when I was writing, and use that to try to project five years from then. Seven pitchers is SSS of course, but when the argument is that Sanchez is special due to his young age at 28, SSS may be all you get. I guess I'm trying to claim that SSS > anecdote. Since I'm not sure what longitudinal means in this context, I have to take a pass on your last paragraph. It's true that one bad contract like Zito's does not have to kill a team, and revenues/contracts have historically tended to rise, but it makes threading the needle just that much harder; 18 million here and 18 million there and pretty soon you're talking big money.

    Thanks for the comments.
  4. Willihammer's Avatar
    Instead of asking "In hindsight, would you have signed Carlos Silva to a 5 year contract after 2007 because he was 28?" (which he didn't sign), is, how have pitchers who commanded 5 year+ contracts in free agency at age 28 faired historically, and how can we use that sample, instead of this pretty random group of 28 year olds from 2007, to make some kind of prediction about how a 5 year commitment to Sanchez will eventually wind up looking? Obviously to do that you would have to go back through the years 2007 and earlier. Maybe I will blog about it myself one of these days if you don't want to.
  5. ashburyjohn's Avatar
    Go for it, my brother.

    I felt it was fair to look at top 28-year-olds, whether or not they were up for new contracts, as comps for Sanchez. I suppose there is the folklore that players let up once they are comfortable, but I don't really go for that.
  6. Joe A. Preusser's Avatar
    Only shell out big money if it is going to be for the piece(s) that complete(s) your team. There will be pitchers of similar calibur available almost every year, so it makes sense to wait until we are acutally in that position.
  7. The Wise One's Avatar
    I think I have your question down

    Meche, Guthrie, and Silva no way even before hindsight would have proved one right would I have signed one to a contract.
    Lackey was a free agent in 09 but like Santana and Beddard has missed time since 07. That would equate to a 1:4 chance of a deserving pitcher playing all of the way through a long contract You win a lot of money off people who gamble with a 25% chance of winning.
  8. gil4's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by The Wise One
    Meche, Guthrie, and Silva no way even before hindsight would have proved one right would I have signed one to a contract.
    Exactly - I still remember thinking "what in the world are they thinking?" when I saw the Meche and Silva contracts. (I don't remember hearing about Guthrie at the time.) With Sanchez, it doesn't sound crazy. Risky, but not crazy.
  9. Larsbars08's Avatar
    I think you have to follow the Tampa Bay Rays model, with the occasional overspend on signing your guy when he's still young to an extension. Developing pitching is hard, as the Twins have found and prone to bad luck, but if you draft wisely, spend wise money on the international scene, you should be able to have a pretty good stable of young arms. You can't always be lucky enough to draft a David Price or Matt Moore, but they turned Shields and Davis into young legit pitching prospects and Will Myers as a cherry on top.

    Honestly, spending big on pitchers in free agency scares the hell out of me. The track record is scary enough. Plus, people complain about Mauer and his contract enough as it is. Imagine if the Twins actually spent 90-100 mil on a guy like Sanchez or some other premiere free agent pitcher and he wasn't Cy Young or got hurt. I just think its too risky for a team that will never swallow payroll like the Yankees or Dodgers.
  10. nicksaviking's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Larsbars08
    I think you have to follow the Tampa Bay Rays model, with the occasional overspend on signing your guy when he's still young to an extension.
    Well sure, but does anyone actually have faith that the Twins have this ability? Tampa drafts hard throwers and molds them into hard thowing pitchers who are able to man the front of a rotation. The Twins haven't shown this ability. Ever. Hopefully Berrios and Gibson are the first in a long line of exceptions but that remains to be seen.

    Though they have little practice at it, I do have faith that the Twins know how to write a check. Everytime I go to the grocery store I seem to end up behind two little old ladies who are able to manage this feat.
  11. gil4's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking
    I do have faith that the Twins know how to write a check. Everytime I go to the grocery store I seem to end up behind two little old ladies who are able to manage this feat.
    You must end up behind different little old ladies than I do. I'm always amazed at how hard that task can be. I haven't seen much to indicate the Twins are any better at it, and even if they are, they often have the wrong items in the cart.
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