In a widely expected move, the Tigers will decline their $16MM option on right-hander Anibal Sanchez in favor of a $5MM buyout, general manager Al Avila told reporters today (Twitter link via Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press). Sanchez will become a free agent once the option is formally bought out following the World Series.
The 33-year-old Sanchez signed a five-year, $80MM contract with the Tigers that spanned the 2013-17 seasons and turned in a sensational campaign in the first year of that deal. In 182 innings that year, Sanchez captured the American League ERA title with a mark of 2.57, averaging 10.0 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9 along the way. He finished fourth in the AL Cy Young voting and was worth roughly six wins above replacement per both fWAR and rWAR. Though he was limited to 126 innings in 2014, Sanchez was again quite good, logging a 3.43 ERA with improved control but diminished strikeouts.
Since contributing about nine wins’ worth of value in those first two seasons, though, the Sanchez contract has been regrettable for the Tigers. He’s logged a total of 415 2/3 innings in that time and surrendered 262 earned runs (5.67 ERA) on the strength of 462 hits (85 homers) and 131 walks. Sanchez still shows a penchant for missing bats (8.2 K/9 over the final three years of the deal, 8.9 K/9 in 2017), but his ground-ball rate has eroded and he’s become stunningly homer prone.
The rebuilding Tigers, who introduced Ron Gardenhire as their new manager earlier today, will happily shed that $16MM annual commitment from their books and turn to younger rotation options. In 2018, they’ll likely lean on Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris, Matthew Boyd and veteran Jordan Zimmermann (who is on an undesirable contract himself) in the first four spots of their rotation. While the Tigers have several in-house options for that fifth spot, they’re also in a nice position to take a flyer on a veteran reclamation project in hopes of flipping him for some value at next year’s trade deadline, as I examined in their installment of MLBTR’s Offseason Outlook series.
With Sanchez off the books, the Tigers still have $97MM owed to four current players (Miguel Cabrera, Zimmermann, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler) and two former players (Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander). The Tigers also have another $25MM worth of projected arbitration salaries, per MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. An offseason trade of Kinsler and/or the non-tendering or trades of an arbitration-eligible player or two would obviously alter that payroll projection.
As for Sanchez, he’ll hit the open market in search of a spot to restore his value — very likely on a one-year deal with a low base salary or on a minor league pact. While he struggled as both a starter and reliever this season, Sanchez did post very solid K/BB numbers throughout the year — particularly upon returning from a month-long stint in Triple-A. He enjoyed solid eight-start run upon his return from the minors (4.37 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 37-to-10 K/BB ratio in 45 1/3 innings) and finished out the year with 23 innings of 2.70 ERA ball and a 31-to-7 K/BB ratio.
Suffice it to say, Sanchez was the picture of inconsistency in 2017 — often showing glimpses of his former excellence but also too frequently giving the Tigers little chance to compete. He yielded four or more earned runs in eight of his 17 starts and five or more earned runs on five occasions. Sanchez also posted the worst HR/9 mark of any pitcher with 100 or more innings in 2017 (2.22), and no starter with at least 400 innings has been as homer-prone as Sanchez (1.84 HR/9) dating back to the 2015 season.