If you are here, you have already heard the news. The Minnesota Twins have provided depth and skill to their previously lackluster starting rotation by signing... Anibal Sanchez?
Twitter and the blogosphere were up in arms Friday afternoon after the signing of Sanchez to a 1 year, $2.5 million dollar Major League contract. While Sanchez still has to make his way onto the MLB roster (he will receive $500,000 if he is assigned to Triple-A Rochester), the Major League nature of this contract means that Sanchez will be given a 40-man roster spot.
Why, oh, why would Falvine, deliverers of Addison Reed, recreators of a half decent bullpen, ever sign Anibal Sanchez (he of a 6.41 ERA and 5.33 FIP in 2017) to a MAJOR LEAGUE deal, wasting a 40-man spot when the team has so many close-to-the-majors pitching prospects with more potential upside?
Answering this question is pretty simple, it’s just not a reality people like to admit.
Signing Anibal Sanchez provides depth similar to last year
Remember 2017? The Twins made the playoffs, and then promptly lost. While the road to the playoffs was exciting, the process of getting there was terrifyingly ugly. A total of six games were started by the likes of Nik Turley, Nick Tepesch, Tim Melville, and Adam Wilk. Another 38 were started by the trio of Phil Hughes, Bartolo Colon, and Hector Santiago. That means that 44 of 162 games (27 percent of the season) were started by guys who probably have no business starting a Major League Baseball game, and Bartolo Colon, who we like primarily because he is old and fat.
Does signing Anibel Sanchez (5.67 ERA since 2015 according to MLBtraderumors.com) make the team significantly better than the pitchers mentioned above? Not particularly. In fact you could argue that Sanchez is essentially a cheaper version of Hector Santiago. But you know what? The Twins actually need a cheaper version of Hector Santiago.
Remember how Ervin Santana will start the season injured? We are starting to think we might be able to get through April okay without him. But what if Ervin has a setback? And who starts those two or three games where we do need a fifth pitcher? Who has to sit on the bench in the bullpen as the extra-extra long man? Before today, the obvious answer was utilizing some of our close-to-the majors pitchers— either legitimate prospects like Stephen Gonsalvez, Zach Littell, or Fernando Romero, OR fringey-prospects like Aaron Slegers and Felix Jorge— to spot start here and there while using roster moves to provide an extra long reliever.
But what if all of these prospects disappoint in Spring Training? What if one or more get hurt? What if one of them assumes they will be given a spot and don’t put forth enough effort? Who gets taken off the 40-man roster when Trevor May returns? The easy way to solve these issues in one fell swoop is to bring in a veteran like Sanchez. Sanchez still wants to be a big league pitcher, and has plenty of motivation to work hard and earn his spot. His presence will force the young pitchers in the system to outpitch someone who is not a peer or friend. And if he makes the team and fails, he can be removed for more promising players later on.
So if Anibal Sanchez is merely a cost-efficient necessary evil, why give him a Major League contract and take up a 40-man roster spot?
We need a Free Agent Reality Check
To answer this question I must give two back-to-reality (oh, there goes gravity) free agency public service announcements:
OTHER TEAMS ALSO TRY TO SIGN PLAYERS
SOME PLAYERS DO NOT WANT TO PLAY FOR (INSERT TEAM NAME HERE)
Believe it or not, every free agent baseball player has a market, especially pitchers. Since every team needs warm bodies at some point in the system, every team is looking to find the best and warmest bodies at the best price. Even for the bottom of the rubbage bin, you have to outbid other teams in order to get what you want.
Here is a simple hypothetical scenario:
There are five warm-body style pitchers on the free agent market that the Twins’ front office see potential in. They send out messages to agents, and this is the response they get:
Pitcher A wants to pitch in the National League no matter what, and won’t sign with the Twins.
Pitcher B also wants to pitch in the National League, and is willing to take one of the minor league deals that he has already received in order to do so, even if the Twins offer more money or a guaranteed contract.
Pitcher C will pitch in any league so long as he plays for a warm climate team with a warm climate Triple-A affiliate, and won’t sign with the Twins
Pitcher D has a few different offers but prefers to sign later in Spring Training, after spring injuries open up more roster spots on certain teams
Pitcher E is willing to sign early in Spring Training. He has been given identical minor leauge offers by the Twins and Team X, and is leaning towards Team X because they play in a warmer climate. However, he will sign with the Twins on a major league deal.
The Twins feel like they need a veteran depth pitcher to provide competition in Spring Training after the injury to Ervin Santana. Who do you think they are going to sign, and how are they going to do it?
Yes, giving Anibal Sanchez a 40-man roster spot is less than ideal, but it is probably what was necessary to get the deal done, and I’ve already shown why the deal should get done in the first place. Listen, the 40-man roster crunch is less important after the Rule-5 Draft, and if Sanchez shows he is no better than our prospect depth the contract is essentially built to cut him and reopen that spot. We have to accept the reality that we signed Sanchez solely because we had a need and he was the only player willing to fill it.
When I play sports video games I can sign anyone if I give them enough money. Falvine do not have that luxury. This is not an instance of the cheap Twins not putting enough effort in to sign Yu Darvish. This is an instance of the Twins working within the parameters of a free agent reality that us fines might not like.
If the Twins sign one of Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, or Alex Cobb in the next week, the Sanchez deal will be looked at as a solid signing, whether it works out or not. The Sanchez deal is only a legitimate issue if the Twins are unable to sign one of these bigger-fish targets. At that point feel free to complain, but not until Arrieta, Lynn, and Cobb are all playing for other teams.