Sanchez, 24, is due to earn just over the league minimum for the coming season, as he’ll fall shy of Super Two eligibility. But he’s set to reach arbitration next fall, and could well end up in search of a big number through the arb process if he can match his stellar 2016 season.
Of course, the talented youngster could also theoretically represent an extension candidate before he reaches his third year of MLB service. Scott Boras is notoriously hesitant to sell his client’s free-agent-eligible campaigns to lock in guarantees, though there certainly have been exceptions.
Among his many other clients, Boras reps just-extended Nationals’ pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who signed his deal in the final season before he’d have reached the open market. Sanchez will join an interesting stable of young arms with the Boras Corp., including Gerrit Cole, Lance McCullers Jr., James Paxton, Carlos Rodon, and Julio Urias. Among Sanchez’s recent teammates, only Franklin Morales and Ezequiel Carrera share the same agency.
Perhaps the chief question for Sanchez, though, isn’t a matter of talent or his contract situation — at least, not directly. Instead, it’s how he’ll bounce back after tallying 203 2/3 innings (including the postseason) in his first full year as a major league starter. Sanchez had spun just 102 frames in 2015, when he spent most of the year working from the Jays’ bullpen, and had never before exceeded 133 1/3 innings (which he reached in 2014) over a pro season.
There’s plenty of reason for optimism for Sanchez, who finished seventh in the American League Cy Young voting at the end of the ’16 season. He logged a 3.00 ERA over his 30 starts, posting 7.5 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 while allowing just 161 hits. Though his four-pitch mix (led by two mid-nineties fastball varieties) hasn’t produced spectacular whiff rates (8.2% in 2016), Sanchez generated a 54.5% groundball rate.
There certainly are some questions about Sanchez as a pitcher, of course, even beyond the arm health. It remains to be seen whether he will continue to maintain an exceedingly low batting average on balls in play; he sat at .267 last year, but wasn’t particularly dominant in terms of the type of contact he allowed. (He permitted 30.3% hard contact, just less than league average; see here for a late-season discussion of exit velocities involving Sanchez.) He has shown some growth in the swinging-strike department, but it’s not yet clear if he can continue to move the needle in that regard. And then there’s the matter of platoon splits, which bears watching. Sanchez wasn’t hurt much by lefties last year, perhaps because they put up only a .255 BABIP against him, but he was much more prone to walk or surrender a dinger to a southpaw hitter.